Back on Track

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has left behind the secrecy of Leg 2 and the early stages of Leg 3 and is now screaming towards the Malacca Strait, bound for China.

Sailing World

RyanOLegThree960

A beautiful sunset greets PUMA Ocean Racing during the first offshore night of Leg 3, which takes the fleet from Abu Dhabi to China.Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

Ryan O'Grady, a veteran follower of the Volvo Ocean Race and a top amateur sailor, is providing regular insight and analysis on the 2011-'12 Volvo Ocean Race for SailingWorld.com. To get the full picture of this dynamic race, follow the racing in our Finish Line forum, track the fleet, and catch up on the race with O'Grady's previous Volvo Voyeur blogs.

We're back to proper ocean racing again in the Volvo Ocean Race. No more stealth zones, cargo ships (hopefully!), or secret ports to hamper spectating. Plus, we have a full-strength fleet again. So what’s been happening with the competitors lately?

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing seems to have had a home-port boost; the team won both the Abu Dhabi In-Port Race and the Leg 3 sprint to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The closing stages of the sprint leg saw Azzam snatch victory from Telefonica and Groupama as the Spanish team attempted to luff the French team. As those boats fought it out, Azzam and Puma's mar mostro slipped through to finish 1-2. Groupama was able to pass Telefonica, since the Spaniards had to put in an extra jibe to finish. CAMPER/ETNZ struggled to find a groove in the light-air reaching conditions seen on the sprint, finishing last. Yann Riou and the Groupama media team did a fantastic job chronicling the details of the sprint and the in-port; the English version of their website is a must-read for anyone keenly following the race.

Following the sprint, the five-boat fleet again loaded on a ship and transported to the now-not-secret location of Male in the Maldives, where Team Sanya was waiting to rejoin the fleet. Having completed rigging repairs in Madagascar, the team rejoined Leg 2, but without skipper Mike Sanderson and navigator Aksel Magdahl, who were replaced by members of Sanya’s shore team. The team will receive 1 point each for the Leg 2 sprint and the Abu Dhabi In-Port Race. However, the ruling seems to be in contravention of the race rules. Sailing Instruction 19.1 states: “A person may leave the Boat during a Leg, having left they shall not return or be replaced during that Leg. With the exception of a guest approved under NOR 7.5 and 7.6, the departure of the person shall be immediately reported to the duty officers and the incident recorded in the Boats log. This changes RRS 47.2.”

Perhaps no one wanted to be seen as a poor sport for protesting a team that has nothing but bad luck, but the rules should be the rules for everyone. Time will tell if the decision to overlook this affects the other teams.

The offshore section of Leg 3 began on Sunday, and all teams, with the exception of Telefonica, have been on port tack ever since. Undefeated in the offshore legs so far, Telefonica was fighting for the lead early into the leg when a fitting on their Code 0 failed, dropping them to an uncharacteristic last place. “We broke the masthead (headsail) a bit,” reported helmsman Pablo Arrarte. “A piece of the tack broke. It flew away and broke the tensor (tensioning connector) down to the bowsprit. So, we have to repair it. We expect a long and hard day to repair it.”

Telefonica media crewmember Diego Fructouso was there with camera in hand to record the aftermath of the tack failure. Check out his video of the team trying to get the Code 0 back in the boat. To get back in the race, Telefonica's navigator, Andrew Cape, ordered a tack away from the fleet to position themselves to the north. "The [decision to go north] caused a lot of initial pain, and that might have affected other people's decision not to do it," Cape said. "But we knew we'd get rewards in a day and a half, so we're pretty happy now. Two days down the road, it's paying back. If you're winning, you're not going to throw away miles, and going north when we did was a loss of ten miles instantly. Most people don't want to do that, but we didn't' really mind, because we were looking at the long term picture."

Normally, executing a tack is a time-consuming, back-breaking process requiring the crew to haul tons of gear and sails from one side of the boat to the other. But Telefonica has come up with a unique way to save time and energy moving the sail stack when tacking. Check out the clever apparatus at the 5:55 mark of this video. If you've ever raced a big boat offshore, you'll wish you had this!

At press time, Telefonica was positioned as the most northerly boat, enjoying the benefits of their move, having moved up to first place in recent skeds. For the rest of the fleet, the long port tack has been a test of nerves and coaxing every bit of speed out of their boat.

To add to the stress, the dangers of sunken fishing nets are everywhere. Puma has already had at least one encounter with the local fishing fleet. “We got our first test run with a fishing boat and a long fishing net during the daytime—nighttime is a different situation,” said skipper Ken Read. “We probably just lost a quarter mile to all the troops around us, but if that had happened at night, we’d still be floundering around, so to speak, inside that net. So we’ll take them as they come.”

Puma bowman Casey Smith added, “If you’re sailing along at night, and you can’t see them, you’re going to go straight into them, and then you’re over the side to cut it off.” Then again, some of the sailors may be wishing for a swim, as the temperatures on deck are in the humid 90s, and conditions below decks are approaching sauna conditions.

From here, it’s a drag race to the Malacca Strait, where the weather outlook from Sailing Weather Services promises for a re-start. “OUTLOOK FOR FRIDAY (27-JAN-2012) NE to E'ly flow will develop over the entrance to the Malacca Strait with areas of scattered convection over much of the Strait. Variable and gusting winds will persist with scattered thunderstorms through the Strait.”

Stay tuned; this 3,000-mile leg is bound to be a nail biter!