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Volvo Ocean Race: Pace heats up as fleet race towards Doldrums

01/03/2012
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The six-strong fleet racing in Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race are keeping up their screaming pace but are heading for a showdown when they reach the Doldrums on Saturday when the wind will decrease.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) has made a small gain of two nautical miles (nm) on leading boat Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) in the last three hours as squalls come in to play introducing violent gusts and patches of lighter airs over a more disturbed sea.

From their easterly position, PUMA are pushing the black cat to the limits in their attempt to reel in Groupama 83.10 nautical miles ahead.

“We continue to careen around the Pacific Ocean like an angry New York City taxi driver delivering a very late passenger. One minute we’re skipping down the face of a wave, only just on the edge of control, the next we’re slamming into a wall of water, bringing the boat to head-jerking and body-throwing halt,” describes PUMA’s media crew member (MCM) Amory Ross.

Meanwhile, in third place, the speed of Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) continues to impress as the team fight for a comeback from an unfavourable westerly position. The game is not over for this team and they will try to find the optimum trade-off between speed and angle. Constantly sailing as fast as or faster than the rest of the fleet, they are delighted with the performance of their boat.

Very much on the pace is fourth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR). The performance of the boat is excellent in the reaching conditions, being the fastest in the fleet at 1000 UTC this morning. They are only 8.2 nm behind Telefónica, but have a favourable easterly leverage of 139 nm. They are currently passing close to the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, where they recorded a maximum wind speed of 30 knots.

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand is still feeling the effects of the loss of their J2 headsail for some hours on Wednesday, when miles were bled causing a rapid drop down the leader board to fifth place. With Groupama now over 114 nm ahead, their sights are set on regaining lost miles from PUMA and Telefónica, although they lost another two miles in this morning’s position report.

“Unfortunately, we have been overtaken on both sides. We are just lacking that little bit of speed at this angle compared with the other boats,” said skipper Chris Nicholson. It is a frustrating situation for the team, who have many New Zealanders among them keen to arrive in Auckland in pole position. Nicholson’s hope now is for some passing opportunities further ahead.

Team Sanya is also matching the pace of the newer Volvo Open 70s and although 168 nm in deficit, the boat is averaging a respectable 19.8 knots with a happy crew who are pushing as hard as they can to get to Auckland quickly.

At 1000 UTC today Groupama 4 showed a lead of 83.10 nm over PUMA, a useful buffer with which to enter the Doldrums situated near to the Solomon Islands, likely to be in the early hours of Saturday morning. The leaders are currently 385 nm from the equator and navigators are now looking ahead to the transition area for the Doldrums where the wind will decrease to around 10 knots, but not disappear entirely.

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