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Volvo Ocean Race: Tickets please! Teams look for route through cold front road block

16/12/2011
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The six Volvo Ocean Race yachts were on Friday queuing up for a ticket through a weather front and into the northerly winds that will catapult them through the Indian Ocean towards Abu Dhabi.

The teams have each picked a lane in preparation for the change of weather systems, with 130 nautical miles separating the fleet from north to south.

Due to an east-moving low pressure trough, the crews have found their path blocked by unstable weather – but with the first of the teams expected to break through in the next 24 hours, the race should be about to restart.

Five days since the fleet left Cape Town, Team Telefónica, the most northerly boat in the pack, held on to their lead with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 27nm behind in second and Team Sanya trailing 41nm in third. Telefónica navigator Andrew Cape, one of the most experienced sailors in this edition with five previous Volvo Ocean Races appearances, said the hold-up – plus the fluctuating winds and confused seas – made for frustrating racing.

“I’m not even going to put a time on when we might get through the front,” he said. “When you approach the front you physically stop dead in the water, and because the front’s moving at about 10-15 knots it jumps back over the top of you and you’re forever stuck in it. It should have been any time in the last three days but could be another two.

“It’s pretty frustrating but I’ve been in these situations before and know the way it works. It’s one of those things. The biggest frustration is we’re sailing in squally conditions which makes it hard to sail, and a bit unpleasant at times. The other thing is the delay – we know it’s going to take us longer to get to our destination.”

Fourth placed PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG gained eight nm on the leaders at the 1300 UTC position update. But as skipper Ken Read explained, positions at the moment are secondary to reaching the northerlies first.

“Essentially there is a new starting line out here with the fleet spread about 120 miles north to south along it, and at some point someone is going to say “go” and we get to punch through and take off,” Read said.

“So who is ahead right now? The scheds say the boat furthest north because they are closest to the mark. But it is a six-boat dead even horse race that will reward the first to punch through – especially once we get to the new high pressure and tack to starboard for days of reaching in the Indian Ocean trade winds. It is a bit of a lottery out here right now.”

Although being ranked fifth on the leg leaderboard, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson said he hoped their position to the east of the fleet would give them the advantage once through the trough.

“It’s almost like sport now to beat this trough line,” he said. “It’s got a personality of its own, and I must say I don’t like its personality. It’s extremely stubborn and it’s refusing to let us through.

“We’ll keep chipping away at it. We only need a small window to open up and we will slide through. We’re the most easterly boat and we’re pushing right into it. Hopefully we’ll get a break.”

As part of the Volvo Ocean Race’s anti-piracy measures, the boats are racing to an undisclosed ‘safe haven’ port in the Indian Ocean where they will be loaded onto a ship and taken to the northern United Arab Emirates. Racing will then resume to Abu Dhabi. Eighty per cent of the points for the leg will be awarded for the first stage, with 20 per cent on offer for the sprint to Abu Dhabi.