Volvo Ocean Race: Puma heads for New Zealand at 20kts plus

Team Telefonica during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.

Puma Ocean Racing, the US flagged entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, is blitzing the fleet, sailing at speeds of around 20kts, while her competitors are sailing at 10-12kts.

Worst affected is the leg leader, Camper crewed by Emirates Team NZ, who has been forced to sail the most northerly course of the group, reducing her lead under the on the water snap shot of the boat positions - calculated to a radius from Auckland, New Zealand the destination stopover.

Camper has been sailing on a course of 030, which is a long way from the required course of 160degrees to head for Auckland when she reaches the tradewinds. Her northerly course was the least favourable of the six strong fleet, and will reduce her lead under VOR snapshot. At a later sked she dropped down to a heading of 088 - which is halfway to where she needs to be. Her speed has also increased to over 12kts and she is no longer the slowest boat in the fleet.

Fleet positions as at 25 February 2012 at 0900 GMT. Puma is at the rear of the fleet, but sailing substantially faster than the other five competitors. Camper, the leader on this leg, has been forced to sail the most northerly course of the six boat fleet - and is sailing away from NZ in search of stronger winds

Fleet positions as at 25 February 2012 at 0900 GMT. Camper must sail carefully for the next three days, and doesnt hit the tradewinds (yellow arrows) until she reaches the position indicated by the white dot, three days hence.

The routing feature of Predictwind.com, used by Sail-World to determine the boat positions and leg lead, is similar to that used by the onboard navigators, and sails the boat for the next nine days of available weather towards a selected waypoint.

On that basis Camper holds the narrowest of leads - just 2 minutes after 1870nm of racing using one of the two wind direction and speed feeds used by Predictwind, and 13 minutes using a second wind data feed. She is being chased hard by Groupama, and would seem to be set to lose her lead in the next few hours, unless she can sail a lower course than the French entry.

Groupama is sailing at a course of 070, which is still heading north, but is less severe than she has been sailing over the last couple of hours.

Watch Captains plotting the skippers birthday plans aboard Azzam. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Astern the fleet have closed up on the leaders. Using the Predictwind system in third place is Abu Dhabi less than an hour astern at the waypoint, and another hour covers the other two boats, Sanya and overall leader, Telefonica.

In the next few hours, Predictwind shows that Camper can drop back to a course more favourable for her destination in Auckland, but she may still be plagued by light winds of less than 10knots average. She won't really hit tradewinds of more than 15knots for another three days.



Puma Racing is both sailing the fastest of the six yachts, averaging 19kts on the lowest course, or most favourable direction for New Zealand. However she is only on a heading of 090 and needs to sail a lot lower than that to reach New Zealand.

Puma is not yet in the tradewinds, but is skirting an area of light winds which has bedevilled the fleet for the past few days. By taking the most northerly course of the fleet - heading for Japan rather than New Zealand, she cracked into the stronger breeze a few hours ago, and at a second sked is sailing at speeds of over 21kts. According to the predictions and course options, will hold a very solid breezeline in to the tradewinds.

Whether that strength of breeze and the huge boatspeed edge that Puma has is sufficient to wipe out the lead of the other boats, remains to be seen.

Pablo Arrarte onboard Team Telefonica during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

Predictwind's routing function says that Puma will still be four hours off the leaders at the waypoint 1870nm down the track, however given her substantial speed edge, and the fact that she is in a different part of the ocean from her competitors, it is they who will be asked the question over the next few days.

Their task is really to make a decisive escape from the light airs and collapsing winds, or risk being caught by Puma whose current speed edge is worth about 160nm per day. She has pulled 65mn out of the leg leader in the past two skeds.

David Swete and Teng Jiang He having a chat onboard Team Sanya during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Andres Soriano/Team Sanya/Volvo Ocean Race)
Andres Soriano/Team Sanya/Volvo Ocean Race