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Volvo Ocean Race: Pressure is on in drag race to the cape

06/03/2012
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Groupama 4 and Franck Cammas have yet again put more distance between PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, as they begin what’s expected to be an 800 nautical mile drag race towards North Cape at the tip of New Zealand’s North Island. At 0700 UTC this morning, Groupama had drawn out a comfortable lead of 94.90 nm, which increased to 105 nm at 1000 UTC as the team averaged speeds of 16.5 knots, while PUMA had dropped 10 nm and were sailing three knots slower.

As the leaders begin what will be a fast and furious 800 nm drag race, the effect of a low-pressure originating off Fiji will be a big influence on the approach to North Cape. To sail high and avoid much of the upwind work will carry the risk of sailing too close to the centre of the system where the breeze is slight. Sailing low in more pressure for longer could involve more than 200 nm on the wind in order to get round the cape. It is a trade-off between how close to the centre of the low to go and how many miles to sail upwind.

Presently the system has not moved dramatically, although it remains unstable. Once round North Cape, provided the low-pressure stays stationary and does not spin over the centre of New Zealand, the last miles for the fleet could be in a wind corridor, which will make for a dramatic finish on Saturday morning UTC.

At 1000 UTC today, the leaders were clear of the wind shadow caused by the French island of New Caledonia, passing 120 nm to leeward. PUMA (Ken Read/USA) meanwhile is keeping a good eye on Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and CAMPER with Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS). With Groupama now so far ahead the only opportunity for the American team to overthrow them is if they run into light airs on the southern side of the North Island, something that has won and lost previous races.

Presently CAMPER in fourth place are contending with unseen reefs in their path, requiring them to alter course substantially to avoid the shallow areas of seven – 10 metres.

“We’re trying to sail fast and keep in the pressure and make some gains on the guys behind and the guys ahead,” said race veteran Tony Rae this morning. “Hopefully they [Groupama 4] will soften up and we can carry on with a bit of pressure.”

Fifth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) lost power and lights on board briefly when a switch cover in the engine bay melted. Crisis was averted by helmsman/trimmer Simon Fisher tracing the problem and replacing the switch, but at 1000 UTC today the team was 244 nm in deficit.

Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) in sixth position are disheartened by losing so many miles. They are now 383 nm off the lead, not knowing where they went wrong having been in touch with the pack for most of this leg.

“There is plenty of time after the leg to go over and pinpoint the spot where we hurt the most and attempt to debrief it, but for now, it’s looking forward, getting to Auckland and possibly chasing down some boats,” said navigator Aksel Magdahl.