Volvo Ocean Race crews prepare to face the St Helena High

Team Telefonica during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12,
Volvo Ocean Race first leg, from Alicante to Cape Town, has passed the halfway mark. The playing field could be about to open up as the teams, led by Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg and tireless rivals Team Telefónica, take on the complex weather systems of the South Atlantic.

After a drag race to Fernando de Noronha that was only interrupted by a short spell in the Doldrums – and initiation ceremonies for sailors crossing the Equator for the first time - the crews must now face the St Helena High, a huge, continually morphing area of high pressure sitting between them and finish line in Cape Town.

With more than 3,200 nautical miles still to go in the 6,500nm first leg from Alicante, Volvo Ocean Race weather expert Gonzalo Infante said tactics during the next stage of the leg could be the deciding factor in the sprint to the finish.

'The latest forecasts show a big high pressure system blocking the way into Cape Town. The teams will have to navigate close to the centre of the St Helena High and this could provide opportunities for a reshuffle of the leaderboard.'

Puma’s Mar Mostro, skippered by Ken Read, held the lead at 1300 UTC, 12 nautical miles ahead of Team Telefónica who have clung like a shadow to their rivals since the race start in Alicante, Spain, on November 5. The American team were first across the Equator and also led the fleet around Fernando de Noronha, the only turning mark in leg one.

Puma navigator Tom Addis said their plan was to continue to dive south in search of winds that could catapult them towards the finish line.

'The general plan here is to go south round the St Helena High. It’s looking fairly conventional now, which is good. The worst fear in this part of the world is having to go upwind into Cape Town, but luckily it doesn’t look like that.'

Three day old slop is caked over inductees of the realm of King Neptune onboard Camper in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©

The crossing of the Equator prompted traditional ceremonies during which first-timers must go before King Neptune and his court to be punished for former sins. On Puma, the race’s youngest sailor Rome Kirby, 22, was in the firing line alongside media crew member Amory Ross, 27.

'There were a few sacrifices made to Neptune but none greater than my loss of hair,' Ross said following Puma’s Equator crossing at 1055 UTC yesterday.

King Neptune's partner Codfish sacrifices a dollop of Rome Kirby's hair after crossing the Equator for the first time. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Tom Addis/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)
Tom Addis/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

'Neptune and his humble servant, played by Tony Mutter and Ryan Godfrey, took a huge stripe down the middle with a pair of scissors so naturally everything else had to follow. Rome suffered a similar consequence. Then there was the obvious component of eating sludge – leftover breakfast, lunch, etc. with a few flying fish. We were both sail-tied to the back of the boat for a while.'

Easing along post Doldrums onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©

Third-placed Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand pulled back 13 miles on their rivals in the three hours leading up to the latest report. Skipper Chris Nicholson said his team were waiting to pounce on any opportunity that comes their way.

'We are just hanging in there, looking to gain any miles where we can, not taking unnecessary risks, but being patient for any opportunity to get back up with the leaders when one presents itself,' he said. 'There is still another half of the leg to go, still a lot to happen yet.'

Phil Harmer onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

After being snared by the Doldrums, Groupama sailing team’s grasp on the leaders slipped to 422 nautical miles – but they too had pulled ground back at the 1300 UTC report gaining 12 nautical miles.

Navigator Jean Luc Nélias said that after 300 nautical miles of painfully slow progress through the Doldrums, the crew were relieved to have finally found steady breeze.

'We are happy to find the south-east trade winds and are heading to the Equator and Fernando. We will sail reaching along the Brazilian coast and will then have to round the St Helena High - but it's still unclear.'

Positions on 17/11/2011 at 13:02:34 UTC
  DTLDTLCBSDTF
1PUMA0.000.014.93255.4
2TELE11.802.015.33267.2
3CMPR123.0013.015.63378.4
4GPMA422.8012.015.63678.2
-ADORRetired from Leg 1
-SNYARetired from Leg 1

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