Heading north to get south

© Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
© Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race

There were celebrations across the Volvo Ocean Race fleet this morning as the six boats settled into better racing conditions, finally free from the misery of the South China Sea.

After four days and more than 700 miles of slamming, pounding and thudding through dreadful conditions since leaving Sanya, respite came in the form of a calmer sea state in the Pacific Ocean.

The teams even enjoyed a spell of elusive downwind sailing, albeit short-lived.

However the weather gods continue to throw challenges at the fleet, and after passing the southern tip of Taiwan yesterday, this morning the fleet were being forced north east instead of south towards Auckland.

“Finally we are free of the South China Sea, and by the way the salty old dogs on board are talking we got off pretty lightly,” said Hamish Hooper, media crew member on CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, the most northerly boat in the fleet at 0700 UTC but ranked fourth.

“For a while there it was CAMPER approaching warp speed again flying along at about 25 knots. Unfortunately it was relatively short lived.”

In the 0700 UTC rankings, Groupama topped the leaderboard with Team Sanya and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in second and third. Team Telefónica were in fifth with PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG in sixth.

Amory Ross, MCM on PUMA, added: “Days upon days of a regrettable upwind thumping made seeing the A5 an actual sunrise, and boat speeds in the twenties as refreshing as cold lemonade on a hot summer day. “Smiles all around brought a bit of cheer into our lives, too.

“Sadly, we’re back into upwind mode and the forecast is again calling for 20 to 25 knots, right on the nose.”

As well as more upwind to come, the fleet were this morning also coming to terms with the fact they are sailing away from their final destination.

“Heading north towards Japan doesn’t seem quite right, but apparently this is the quickest way to get to New Zealand,” said CAMPER navigator Will Oxley.

“It is somewhat comforting that the entire fleet has followed suit.”

Just 43 nautical miles separated the fleet at 0700 – and with plenty more tactical decisions to make, the opportunities for gains and losses are rife.

“The next few days are going to prove treacherous,” PUMA MCM Ross added.

“There are passing lanes galore out here, unstable winds, currents, and a still-ambiguous heading away from New Zealand.

“Every decision—and there will be a lot of them—will be a major one.

“Either way, it’s great to be in the game and feel like there’s something to lose!”

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