Volvo Ocean Race fleet prepares for fierce conditions

Wet conditions entering the Doldrums. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 recommences on 10th December with the V and A Waterfront In-Port Race followed by the start of leg two to Abu Dhabi on 11th December.

The six-boat Volvo Ocean Race fleet could face fearsome wind conditions in Cape Town this weekend as weather forecasters are predicting up to 25 knots of breeze.

While the prospect of strong winds may be fantastic news for the thousands of spectators expected to flock to the waterfront to watch the action, it will be a daunting prospect for the crews having to manhandle their powerful ocean racers around a short inshore course.

Cape Town delivered spectacular conditions for the last in-port race held there during the 2005-06 edition, when winds touched 40 knots at times. Back then, it was Mike Sanderson who skippered ABN Amro One to victory in what turned out to be a survival race.

This time, with his boat having undergone a major structural repair just days prior to the start, Sanderson has a very different set of priorities for an in-port race that Team Sanya will make by the skin of their teeth.

'Are we fully ready for this in-port race? No, certainly not,' he said. 'Am I still worried how it is going to all come together at this late stage? Absolutely.'

Sanderson says memories of the epic 2005-06 Cape Town In-Port Race have been flooding back, but thinks the spectacle this Saturday could be very different.

'The teams have leapfrogged way past how we sailed the boats in those days and all the crews are very slick in those conditions now. The fact that we have got the race start the very next day rather than a week’s gap, means that we should see people being relatively conservative.'

Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says the fleet could be in for a five-hour battering immediately after the start of leg two, with 25 to 30 knot headwinds producing conditions reminiscent of those that caused such damage on the first night of leg one.

Infante expects the winds to moderate to around 10 to 15 knots as the boats pass the Agulhas Cape but says the biggest factor will be the size of the ocean swells the boats will face while sailing into the wind.

Groupama skipper Franck Cammas says the conditions could be every bit as bad as the first night out of Alicante, but believes that important lessons have been learned since then.

'It looks like it will be another big test and it is something which we are concerned about for sure,' he said. 'However, now that the first leg is over and with everything that has happened I think all the boats will be much more reliable for leg two, and we can be more confident in the fleet coping with the conditions.

'After all, this is the Volvo Ocean Race and for these kind of boats and the crews, having to go through these sort of sea states is quite normal.'

Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson says the weather forecasts have been changing every day, making strategy setting a tough process.

'At the moment the weather we saw coming out from here was starting to look quite tricky. It was anything but a standard exit out of here,’’ he said.

'Normally it would be a windy upwind and you sort of head south looking to pick up a front. At the moment it is anything but that, so, no, this is not going to be a straightforward slugging match.

'I think it’s going to be quite tricky with lots of opportunities for everyone involved, so it will be very interesting.'

Volvo Ocean Race website