Volvo Ocean Race: Gulf Stream conveyor belt whisks fleet towards storm

Team Sanya, skippered by Mike Sanderson from New Zealand, chasing the fleet in light winds, at the start of leg 7 from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

After a light airs start to Leg 7 yesterday, Groupama sailing team have the lead today as northerly winds blowing against the Gulf Stream kick up a choppy sea in the opening stages of the transatlantic leg to Lisbon in Portugal.

The fleet’s progress north is being helped by three knots of positive current from the Gulf Stream conveyor belt, but has made for an unpleasant and bumpy start to the 3,590 nautical mile (nm) leg.

'There’s nothing like going upwind in the Gulf Stream and slamming into a big swell,' said PUMA watch captain Tony Mutter. Already the fleet has made good progress on what all crews expect to be an exhilarating and predominantly downwind ride back to European waters.

At 0700 GMT today Groupama led from Team Telefónica by 1.2 nm as the fleet passed Cape Canaveral on the east coast of the United States.

Meanwhile Puma, Camper and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are tightly bunched, while Team Sanya are positioned two miles to windward of the pack.

Volvo Ocean Race - Virtual Viewer - Positions Leg 7, Day 1 - Sanya is out of picture to the right

Ahead of the fleet to the north lies Tropical Storm Alberto, which will provide a big advantage for the team which finds the strong winds first.

According to Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias, there is a chance the tropical low could propel the fleet east almost as far as the Azores Islands.

'The storm is the source of pressure for us to get north and east on, so it’s important to try to feed into that pressure first,' explained PUMA navigator Tom Addis.

'You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that low, because the current against wind in the Gulf Stream would give quite a heinous sea state.'

Leg 7 is expected to take the fleet 11 days to complete with the leaders expected to arrive in Lisbon on or around May 31.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK, leads the fleet at the start of leg 7 from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing bowman Justin Slattery from Ireland, on the bowsprit, at the start of leg 7 from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain, looking for breeze, at the start of leg 7 from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Ryan Godfrey watches the fleet advance from onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, skippered by Ken Read from the USA, in light winds, at the start of leg 7 from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain, approach a rounding mark, at the start of leg 7 from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK, at the start of leg 7 from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Skipper Franck Cammas helming Groupama Sailing Team at the start of leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Fellow kiwis Tony Mutter and Kelvin Harrap onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during day one of leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)