Volvo Ocean Race fleet enter the South China Sea

Groupama Sailing Team chasing Team Telefonica during leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Abu Dhabi, UAE to Sanya, China.
The Volvo Ocean Race fleet were led around the Horsburgh Lighthouse and out into the South China Sea at 1605 UTC today by Iker Martinez and the crew of Telefonica. Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) was 3.4 nm behind and, in third, 10.8 nm further back, was Puma’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA).

Tonight at 2200 UTC, the order remained unchanged. Telefónica leads Groupama 4 by 4.7 nm and Puma’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) is a further 3.6 nm astern. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) and Camper with Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) remain glued together 20 nm further back and just 2.4 nm apart, while sixth-placed Team Sanya brings up the rear, 165 nm adrift and has yet to enter the Singapore Strait.

'We seem to be on the downward spiral and that’s in conditions we know we’re quite fast in,' said skipper of Sanya and former race winner Mike Sanderson/NZL.

'From that side of it, it’s been really disappointing. But you know, you can be as fast you like in these conditions, but if guys have two or three knots more, they’re going to sail away,' he said. 'We’d love an opportunity to catch up, but right now I’d settle for not losing any more miles.'

As the fleet spilled out into the South China Sea, speeds immediately began to improve, as the leading trio set off east on a straightforward port tack beat at 13 knots. The teams must first leave an archipelago of islands off the coast of Malaysia to port before they can commence the 450 nm beat to the finish in Sanya.

Although Telefónica is well set up for the type of upwind sailing the crews will face in the next week and the team is eagerly anticipating conditions which will suit their boat, watch leader Neal McDonald says there is actually very little difference in performance among the top three upwind.

After the tactical stress of the Malacca and Singapore Straits, coupled with high density commercial shipping, which kept the crews awake for 20 hours at a time, now is the time to settle back in to a watch system rhythm and try to catch up on much needed sleep.

Volvo Ocean Race website