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Volvo Ocean Race: Leaders on last stretch towards cape horn

27/03/2012
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Earlier today, Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) led PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) past the eastern ice waypoint and both teams are powering towards Cape Horn. At 1000 UTC, PUMA was hot on the heels of Groupama, 30.2 nautical miles (nm) astern, racing in 30-35 knots of wind. Meanwhile, Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) is taking it extra cautiously as the team is anxious about the damage sustained to their bow. They hold third place, 301.2 nm behind the Franck Cammas and his men.

The leading pair, while racing as hard as they dare, are deliberately keeping the speeds manageable in a messy sea which is preventing very high numbers. Explaining Groupama’s speed compromise on this leg, helmsman/trimmer Laurent Pagés, said:

“The way we are sailing has been the same since we entered this part of the Southern Ocean, where the sea state is really bad. It’s what has allowed us not to break anything yet, as opposed to some of our competitors.

“It was good ‘speed compromise management’ – a compromise between our speed compared with our competitors and the condition of our boat and crew. We had a day where the sea became choppy again - boat breaking conditions - and we took our foot off the pedal.

“We indeed gave some miles to PUMA, who seem to have kept on more sail area and have taken 15 miles or so. But it’s all fine, there is no problem on board.”

Groupama are now down to latitude 55 degrees south, where the wind is heavy with snow and rain, and the wind freezes hands if on deck for more than an hour.

Brief spells of sunshine have made life more bearable, but below deck, it is freezing. Amory Ross, media crew member (MCM) with PUMA, reported icicles forming on the hatch.

“Working down below is like taking your office onto the porch, but in the middle of winter. Hands are too stiff to type and the trackpad on my laptop struggles to distinguish frigid fingertips from freezing air,” he wrote.

On board Telefónica, MCM Diego Fructuoso said that it is so cold that the four crew on watch for a two-hour period are taking it in turns to go below and have a hot drink during their watch before returning on deck for another stint.

Further back still, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) has picked up speed and is making 17.6 knots towards the central ice waypoint, but is 1380 nm behind. Conditions have yet to heat up for the team, who are gliding downwind in weather reminiscent of Long Island Sound in the summer, but the team is very aware of how alone they are.

“We are the furthest you can get from land in any ocean, and if something very serious does happen, it’s all up to you,” wrote MCM Nick Dana.

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) are still around eight days from Puerto Montt in Chile, around 2,000 nm ahead, where they will stop for repairs before re-joining the race. Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) having suspended racing, has arrived safely in Tauranga, New Zealand. The boat will be shipped on Thursday to Savannah in the United States and be back in the race for the in-port race in Miami and Leg 7 to Lisbon.

Groupama and PUMA are about to encounter some of the worst weather so far on Leg 5 as a storm force depression moving eastwards gathers pace in their path. It will be another two days or so before they can point north and head towards the relative safety of warmer climes.