Wednesday, June 13, 2012

2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race officials send fleet into 45 knot gale

I've drawn in the approximate route of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race fleet's Leg 8 coarse. The red "A" place-mark  shows The Azores, Portugal. See a satellite image weather map of the region below.

The latest dispatch from Volvo Ocean Racing,

13/06/2012 7:01:39 UTC
(Tuesday, June 13, 2012 - 2:01:39 am edt)

In an exciting duel this morning, at 0456 GMT Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) led Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) by three minutes as they rounded the turning point at the Azores island of São Miguel on Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Now the leaders are battening down the hatches to tough it out in winds of 40 knots and a huge sea state for the final 1,000-mile push to the finish in Lorient, France.
At the turning mark, less than an hour separated the first five teams who are now clear of São Miguel and pointing north east, while Sanya and Mike Sanderson were just off the northern tip of the island. Supporters from the islands turned out at dawn, hollering and cheering as the teams sailed through the archipelago.
According to Hamish Hooper, Media Crew Member with fourth-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS), things will only become more interesting and more intense over the next 24 hours as the barometer drops and the wind builds to some very strong gales.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s navigator Jules Salter says that as much as 45 knots of wind is possible as the fleet nears the centre of the depression which is sweeping across their path. “Unfortunately, the way in which the storm is moving right now, it will be difficult to get to where we are trying to go without seeing some exceptionally heinous conditions,” he said.
It will be Thursday before the fleet is in the thick of the low, which could produce conditions not seen since the Southern Ocean on Leg 5, which saw five of the six-boat fleet suffer serious damage.
Holding it together will be key for the top four still in contention for overall honours, and while Telefónica, Groupama, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) and CAMPER will be less inclined to take risks, Abu Dhabi and Sanya, who are clearly out of the frame for an overall win, will, perhaps, be braver. “It’s about time we got some real smoking downwind conditions – this should be quite a finish into France,” remarked Abu Dhabi’s watch leader Craig Satterthwaite.
At 0700 GMT today, in a building breeze, Telefónica led Groupama by 0.8 nm, with PUMA just 1.8 nm behind the leader. Still well in touch, 6.7 nm behind the Spanish team were CAMPER, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were a further six miles astern. Speeds were already back up to 16.6 knots for the leaders, while Sanya, who were 22 nm behind and still trying to get clear of the island, were only managing 13 knots.
“Everyone is getting ready for one last push," said PUMA MCM Amory Ross. "We know it will be tough, tiring, wet and wild, but it’s only for a few days and they will be some of our last, so bring it on. What would a leg of this race be without some extremely uncomfortable sailing?"

An image from an Environment Canada Satellite Composite
Image weather map. I've drawn in the High and the Low.and
some lines: the thick sweeping line shows the path of a 45 knot
gale rounding the top of the Azores High pressure area.
The thinner line I've drawn is the Volvo Ocean Race fleet's
approximate coarse. (Full sized image open image's link.)
While the Fleet was in port at Lisbon Portugal over the weekend, Volvo Ocean Race officials decided to set an imaginary mark around which the fleet would be required to sail in Leg 8. They were considering placing the mark south west off the coast of Portugal near the tiny, almost mid-Atlantic Island chain called the Azores - in order to guarantee that the races wouldn't simply take the coastal route up from Lisbon to Lorient, France. The result of that would have been a slow crawl op the coast - boring - so race officials sent these couragous Ocean Racers where they were fairly confident there would be strong trade winds interacting with a stable mass of high pressure over the archipelago known as the Azores.

Well, they may have gotten more excitement then they bargained for.

When I heard over the weekend that race officials were thinking of changing the route of Leg 8 - and sending 60 racers (and a number of media people) into 'exciting' weather, I wondered about how it must feel for race officials at moments like this - changing the coarse of the race on a hunch, looking at weather maps in the safety of Port - calculating for a good race, and now, having sent these people into harms way hoping by all that is holy that you haven't sent these people to their deaths.

I'll update the progress through this upcoming storm over the next 24 hours, here.

This video comes just as the fleet is approaching the turn around the Azores, approximately 1am edt this morning.

Different Angles - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

At 3:20 on the video, Stuart Bannatyne Co-skipper / Watch Captain for Team Camper,

".. The forecast for the other side of the high pressure is stating to get quite interesting, [...] ..very scary stuff."

Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 -


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