A bord du bateau Lorientais GROUPAMA 4 © Yann Riou / Groupama Sailing Team
A bord du bateau Lorientais GROUPAMA 4 © Yann Riou / Groupama Sailing Team

At last, after a difficult couple of days, the fleet racing in Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race has flooded through the Straits of Gibraltar and has been set free into the Atlantic, led by Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER at 2100 GMT last night.

At 1000 GMT today CAMPER had clung onto her slim lead from Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) and Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA).

As the fleet made its escape from the fearsome Mediterranean, conditions became far more manageable with the breeze dropping to 10 knots maximum.  CAMPER’s navigator Will Oxley described the change in conditions as going “from the sublime to the ridiculous – 38 knots to five knots.”

“The next challenge for the fleet is the big area or light winds ahead and how best to negotiate through these to hook into the favourable trade winds and remain in the lead,” he added.

Now that conditions have eased, the crews will be able to get some rest and clear up the inevitable mess down below. Ken Read’s team on board PUMA’s Mar Mostro says below decks on the black boat is something of an obstacle course of food bags, personal kit, sails and people. Finding anything has been nearly impossible.

Today will be all about tactics and could be the day that we might expect to see one of the fleet make its break to the west, where better winds are forecast in the next 24 hours. Will the first boat to make this move take the rest of the fleet with it?  Perhaps this question will be answered in the next 12 hours. Meanwhile, the fleet continues to broad reach 70 nautical miles off coast at around 12 knots.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are hoping to have rejoined the race by Thursday morning at the latest, and skipper Ian Walker says the combined shore crew and sailing team will be working all night as they battle to get their new mast rigged as quickly as possible.

"We needed to get some cables made up and while that was being done most of us got some sleep last night. Tonight could be a long one though."

With the entire team working flat out to repair minor hull damage and rig the new mast, Walker admits to feeling slightly redundant.

"We have a fantastic team and I feel like a spare part at the moment. I think I should have learned more about rigging as a nipper. I can’t do much more than make cups of tea and go round and check with people and encourage them to get it all done quick."

Despite the fact that every hour ashore means extra distance sailed by four boats still racing, Walker appeared pragmatic about the dismasting which forced Abu Dhabi return to suspend racing just hours after the start of the first leg to Cape Town.

"We could have sailed to Cape Town without any gear failure and just made a tactical mistake and finished fifth. We don’t want to give away any points at any stage with such stiff competition, but it’s not going to cripple us.

"I don’t think anyone is expecting us to launch out of here and take three or four days off the other guys. Having said that the weather is a funny thing and we have seen it before in other races where people stop or start late and actually benefit from the weather. Right now the weather is not looking particularly kind for us so we will just do what we always do and get there as quick as we can."

Under the rules, Abu Dhabi will be able to motor to the spot where they suspended racing, but Walker said they were hopeful of being able to do some testing of their new mast.

"Hopefully there will be some wind and we will be able to sail. This is a brand new mast and we have a balancing act between getting out of here and doing enough due diligence and checked stuff so that we don’t encounter further problems."

Walker says that there have been plenty of logistical knock on effects from the dismasting to deal with.

"We are now using all our spares, so we won’t have any spares and we will have to get stuff manufactured. Stuff is in the wrong containers. Plus all the shore guys who would now have been having time off are here working double overtime. Logistically it’s a very big challenge, but everybody is very motivated to make it all happen."

Out in the Atlantic, after being slammed around for that first 24 hours by winds up to 80 kph, the boats still racing have been forced to go looking for wind to the west – a search that was proving tricky at 1300 UTC on Monday.

"The next few days will be a big mess," Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias said by Inmarsat satellite phone from the boat. "The winds are sure to be light, there are no trade winds and it will be very painful to reach the Doldrums.

Ken Read, skipper on PUMA's Mar Mostro, echoed that feeling: "There are no real trade winds out here so we are going to most likely look elsewhere for wind in order to get south."

Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez tried to look on the bright side.

"There's very little breeze and we are trying to fill the sails but with only momentary success," he said. "The good thing is that we have all been able to sleep a bit and to eat well. We are starting to work up a routine according to the watches and to eat at night. All good down here and everyone's in a good mood."

After looking like the best they could hope for from Leg 1 would be five points for sixth place, Abu Dhabi are now gunning for 10 points for fifth, given that Sanya's best hope is to ship their damaged boat to Cape Town in time for Leg 2.

If they are fortunate with the weather in the Mediterranean and pick up stronger winds in the Atlantic, they may even get closer to their rivals than they thought possible when they headed back towards Alicante on Saturday.

Team Sanya, the Volvo Ocean Race’s first-ever Chinese entry, have announced their official retirement from Leg 1, after sustaining serious damage to the bow of their boat, soon after leaving Alicante, Spain for Cape Town, South Africa.

Mike Sanderson, CEO and skipper of Team Sanya, today elaborated on the events at sea on Sunday November 6 and reiterated his team’s intention to get back in the race as quickly as possible.

“We were very happy with our progress, managing the big breeze and waves very nicely. We were not pushing 100 per cent and had decided to throttle back a knot or so given the conditions; we felt we were in a comfortable zone.

“We suddenly felt a very odd lurch, like dragging the keel through soft mud. We could hear the noise of water coming into the bow. The watertight doors were already shut thankfully.

“We got everyone up and into lifejackets. For sure if the watertight doors had not been shut, we would have been sunk. We got the pumps going but they were not really making much difference. After a time, our situation stabilized and we suspended racing and headed to the nearest port.”

Sanderson says Team Sanya now face a major logistical challenge to get their boat to Cape Town and effect repairs before the in-port racing and the start of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi.

“We need to take the time to do some serious thinking and planning, assessing the logistical options and making the right choices that get us back in the race as soon as possible. We need to repair the hull perfectly; a rush job is not an option.

“The repair is no small task. We have to chop out a large section of the boat and replace it – normally a two to three week job, we will have to shoehorn it into seven days. But this is the Volvo Ocean Race and we will do what we have to do to make it happen.”

“Our worst-case scenario is that we ship to Cape Town but are not able to fix it in time, meaning we are late starting from Cape Town and consequently miss the ship from our stop point during the second leg.”

In an unrelated incident, bowman Andy Meiklejohn sustained an injury during a sail change in the extremely rough conditions on the first night. Once ashore an assessment at the local hospital confirmed Meiklejohn had broken his foot.

Commenting on Meiklejohn’s injury, Sanderson said:

“Andy is now in the process of receiving medical advice and will be treated as soon as possible. He is an extremely pivotal team member and will be sorely missed while he is off. We will assess his recovery time and look at our options for a replacement should we need one.”

Sanderson summed up the disappointment that he and the entire Sanya team were feeling after the retirement and reiterated their commitment to return to racing as soon as possible.

“From a personal point of view I have never before retired from a Whitbread or Volvo leg and so it’s a pretty sad moment. We were very comfortable with how we were sailing and so it’s extremely disappointing for the guys.”

“As a team, we can still absolutely achieve everything we have set out to do – win some podium positions and take a few scalps from the other teams – and we fully intend to do that still.

“We have a great bunch of guys here and I have absolute confidence that we will get back on the race track as soon as we possibly can. For now it’s a full frenzy of activity to get our Sanya Lan race boat on a ship this Friday and turn a boat building job of two to three weeks into seven days!”

Team Sanya will release their shipping route and departure and arrival dates as soon as that information is confirmed.

Source and thanks : Volvo Ocean Race

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