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Volvo Ocean Race: Going for every inch

27/01/2012
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Tonight at 2200 UTC, all six boats racing in Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race are negotiating the Malacca Strait with their eyes wide open. At 1900, CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) became the new leader, Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) had moved up a place to fifth, but by 2200 UTC, it was all change.

Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) was back in the leader’s position, a fraction over three nautical miles (nm) ahead of CAMPER, with PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) 6.30 nm behind in third. All three were heading towards the mainland shore on port tack. The second half of the fleet however all lost miles to the leaders. Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) lost seven nm, but retained fourth position, while the worse casualty, Sanya, still on starboard, slipped back to sixth, trading places with Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

Onboard CAMPER, navigator Will Oxley is planning to keep away from the coast of Sumatra. “We don’t think there will be much wind there tonight,” he said.

The weather models are predicting the wind to come aft and decrease, which will slow the front-runners and could play into the hands of Team Sanya and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) who are playing catch up. At least, that is what Jules Salter, navigator of Azzam is hoping. “That’s where the advantage of being behind is, if there ever is one,” he said.

As the Strait narrows and constricts, it becomes harder to pass and according to Salter, there are plenty of potholes to be avoided. “We will try to work out where the clouds are from our satellite pictures,” he explains. “Every three hours we also receive the wind information form the other boats and piece together what’s going on. Hopefully we can pick a better path for ourselves,” he said.

Along with the rest of the fleet, the crew of Groupama 4 are working extra hard in all areas to catch up 15 nm. “We’re going to have our work cut out refining the trim so that we can make the most of the little wind there will be and will have to be on top of things. Groupama 4 isn’t necessarily the most at ease in these conditions, but for the time being we are on the pace and the atmosphere on board is very good,” Franck Cammas reported.

Now that the fleet races in darkness, it is a question of feeling the way through the tidal rips and congested commercial shipping. All boats in the fleet are equipped with an AIS system, which is mandatory for racing in the Malacca Strait. This device sends the name, direction and speed of each racing yacht to all commercial shipping within a 20 nm radius of each yacht, each one appearing on the ship’s screen as a blip marked ‘racing yacht, limited manoeuvrability’.

Added to the Malacca Strait challenge are the small fishing boats with long nets and tree trunks and other debris floating unseen in the water requiring a crewmember on deck to keep a permanent watch for unseen hazards. Daylight will bring a welcome relief.

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