Volvo Ocean Race fleet prepare to battle Agulhas current

Rob Greenhalgh from GBR at the helm onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
In the Volvo Ocean Race, night is falling as the fleet prepares to do battle with the notorious Agulhas current. Thirty knot winds blowing against the direction of the current will whip 6-metre waves to a hurling mass. The battle will be significantly more difficult once it’s dark.

The crews will not have time to acclimatise to the sea state during daylight hours. The boats will be on a fast reach, leaping off waves that the helmsmen can barely see, helped only by the light of a big moon and clear skies. It will be essential to play the waves, but these could be boat-breaking conditions.

Ken Read will be very aware of what can happen. It was on this leg in the 2008-09 race, which took the fleet from Cape Town to Cochin in India that Puma’s Il Mostro launched off a wave and landed with a sickening thud, damaging the main longitudinal frame. Ian Walker also ran into trouble on this leg previously when his boat, Green Dragon broke her steering gear and crashed into a horrendous Chinese gybe and, later, when a 50-knot gust ripped through the fleet, her boom snapped.

Latest position report as of 0430hrs UTC on 14 December. Groupama is the offshore yacht, Abu Dhabi inshore

All this to look forward to tonight, meanwhile the past twelve hours or so have been very complicated. The fleet has continued to be in sight of each other, as they tacked down the coast of South Africa, something very unusual and unexpected in this race.

Coastal navigation requires constant input from the navigators, who have had very little sleep so far, just catnapping between taking bearings and assessing their boat’s performance against those closest to them. However, according to Will Oxley, navigator of Camper (Chris Nicholson/AUS), who was in the lead earlier today, it is much less stressful when you know where the opposition is, and a lot more fun as the crew of Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) has discovered after their lonely race during leg one.

At 1600 UTC this afternoon, Groupama 4 became the new leader from Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) and Puma’s Mar Mostro and held onto her lead at 1900 UTC tonight. Camper moved back up to second place, relegating Puma’s Mar Mostro to third. Team Sanya is now the back marker, having lost 28 nm by being becalmed in torrential rain.

Volvo Ocean Race website