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Volvo Ocean Race: Tortuous progress in South China Sea

22/02/2012
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This morning at 1000 UTC CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) were still in the lead, but a change of waypoint* elevated Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) into second place, and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) up to third place as the fleet began to feel the effects of the Kuroshio Current or ‘Black Tide’.

This local current, similar to the Gulf Steam in the north Atlantic, flows north east past Japan and is creating some very big waves and some even bigger crash landings for the boats. The crews are unanimous in their loathing for the torturous conditions.

Currently the fleet is heading due east, against the wind in around 22 knots of breeze, heading for a northern crossing of the Luzon Strait to exit the South China Sea.

“We just can’t get out of here fast enough,” said PUMA’s skipper Ken Read/USA today. “We are sick of going up wind,” he said as he and his team tried to work out the best way to get east in a weather system that is falling apart.

The breeze is forecast to die as the fleet approaches the southern tip of Taiwan at the northern end of the Luzon Strait and it’s a question of playing the fleet but keeping an eye on the global picture.

According to Chris Nicholson, the waves have no backs and the landings are severe. “Not too much of a problem in the daylight as we can steer around them, softening the impact on the boat, but a big issue at night time,” he said.

Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam was barely audible in his call to Race HQ this morning as the conversation was punctuated with loud crashes every few seconds as Azzam’s landed heavily in the bottom of a trough.

“We are literally having to steer around every wave,” Walker said. “Right now we have to get out of the South China Seas. It is a God-awful place, certainly no place you want to be sailing up wind at least. Hopefully, in another 100 miles or so, we will poke our nose out and get free of this place.

“I am just glad we are not coming through here in 40 knots, which we easily could have been,” he added.

The constant crashing is tiring the crews. Sleep is difficult as the motion of the boat makes it hard for the off watch crews just to stay in their bunks.

The fleet now is divided by just 19.4 nautical miles from CAMPER in first and PUMA in sixth position and there is no prospect of a let up in the mounting pressure.

“Everyone is trekking out towards the southern tip of Taiwan, where the wind is expected to become very fickle. I hope the waves drop before the wind does, or it will make for tortuous progress,” concluded Ian Walker.

* To ensure the accuracy of the race tracker three waypoints are used to calculate the fleet’s distance to finish (DTF) data during the second stage of Leg 4.

At 0800 UTC this morning the first waypoint just off the north east tip of the Philippines was replaced by the second waypoint located near the Poor Knights Islands north of Auckland.

Waypoint 3 is located just close to Tiritiri Matangi Island and will come into play as the fleet closes in on Auckland at the end of the leg.

This morning’s waypoint change elevated Team Sanya to second place and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to third at the 1000 UTC position report. Groupama dropped to fourth based on the new calculation.

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