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Volvo Ocean Race: East comes on strong in classic trades conditions

28/02/2012
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There is a tinge of anticipation in the air this morning as the fleet prepares for a drag race towards the equator in solid north east trade winds.

Groupama sailing team continue to hold the lead and the furthest east position and at 1000 UTC this morning were charging along at an average of 21 knots -- a speed only briefly topped by their neighbours PUMA Ocean racing powered by BERG and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who hit peak speeds above 25 knots as they powered south east.

For PUMA the return to fast sailing comes as a blessed relief after their charge down the eastern flank had temporarily ground to a halt in a patch of light airs -- a warning to Ken Read’s team of their vulnerable position on the edge of the fleet.

“After two days of consecutive gains, it was a stinging reminder that we are very vulnerable out here on the corner, and that there is still a very, very long way to go to New Zealand,'' Media Crew Member Amory Ross said.

“It was tough sailing for a few hours this morning with all sails flapping in the wind and nothing to push them (or us) anywhere.

“To a rising sun we moved the boat’s contents forward and could do nothing but watch the computer screen confirm that the rest of the fleet was still averaging 10+ knots. Not fun.

“Fortunately, we’ve stopped the bleeding and are back up to speed in a nice 15 knot northerly."

In less wind on the western fringe of the fleet the second placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand crew were having to work flat out to claw back precious miles on the leaders.

CAMPER MCM Hamish Hooper described the scenario in his latest report from the boat.

“At the moment it’s a slight waiting game until all of the fleet are nose down and pointing at New Zealand when the 2,000 mile drag race starts to the Doldrums and a chain of Pacific Islands to penetrate before the last push to paradise,” Hooper said.

“It’s still full throttle down charging along getting every ounce of speed out of CAMPER to claw back some ground mile by mile.

“Groupama have had a tough few skeds being caught further out to the east in lighter wind, which we know all too well about the pain of after recent days.

“However, we are short of sympathy for our French counterparts.

“Thanks to that we have managed to take a couple of chunks out of their lead, which gave everyone a momentary additional spring in their step.

“They are now back up to full speed again, in fact in the latest sked we had the least amount of wind.

“It sure is swings in roundabouts. But we push on hard."

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s sixth position in the standings belies a strong tactical position to the east making them one of the first to benefit from the developing trade winds.

“Finally! Azzam has just poked into the solid northerly trades,” MCM Nick Dana reported this morning. “The wind direction has now headed enough that we are headed southeast at pace.

“The latest skeds should show us doing around 60 miles, a massive departure from the majority of skeds for the entire race so far.

“Not to mention the sailing is sensational -- 18 - 20 knots of consistent north easterly wind while we rip along with a full main and fractional zero averaging around 20 knots of boat speed.

“Our ‘snow plough’ bow has been chucking up 10-foot solid walls of white water for the better part of day.

“We are all just focusing on the sailing at hand and getting south. It’s now roughly 1600 miles to the equator and we are smashing the miles."

On leg leaders Groupama sailing team MCM Yann Riou said the French crew were preparing for some adrenaline fuelled sailing as they dig deeper into the genuine trade wind zone over the next 24 hours.

“We are now on a reach in around 15 knots on what are quite comfortable seas,” he said. “There's a blue sky with some small cumulus. In short -- if this isn't the trade winds, it sure looks like it.

“From this evening, the wind is set to head a few degrees, increasing to up to 22 knots. As such we're preparing for a new episode of ‘Life at the extreme’ with some high speeds, torrents of water on deck and so on and so forth.

“To put it plainly, classic Volvo conditions!”

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