Volvo Ocean Race tacking frenzy ensues

Skipper Ian Walker helming Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.
Volvo Ocean Race. After a lenghty starboard leg towards the southern tip of Taiwan, there was quite a tacking frenzy between 1600 and 2200 GMT, when all but Puma’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) tacked onto port, followed shortly by Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) tacking back again.

Tonight’s activity is the first in a series of arduous manoeuvres for the fleet in order to free themselves from the claws of the South China Sea.

At 2200 UTC tonight, Camper maintained a 10.4 nautical mile (nm) lead over Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) despite narrowly avoiding a huge unlit buoy earlier, something that navigator Will Oxley described as a ‘complete show-stopper in the dark’.

The many oilrigs and platforms that dot the area south of Hong Kong have also kept the crews at the height of awareness for most of today. The team plans to slip just under the southern tip of Taiwan and sneak through the Luzon Strait before the wind shuts down and the whole area becomes a glassy, windless zone.

The solutions on how to exit the South China Sea effectively vary wildly. Options include shooting away to the southeast and just shaving the Philippines, while another suggests heading north around the island of Taiwan. It is a pivotal moment in the leg, where winners can be losers and vice versa.

It has been another tough day for the Americans onboard Puma’s Mar Mostro, who earlier carried out five exhausting tacks in 40 minutes. The crew is feeling beaten up, but trying to remain positive after a bad day in the office. The options ahead are not clear for them and the team is yet to make firm decisions on which way to go, but is seriously considering taking the northerly option around Taiwan in order to avoid the glassy snare ahead, although it will mean sailing around 400 extra miles.

In a lateral split spanning 13 or so nautical miles, this evening Team Sanya has moved both up and down the order and now lies in a respectable third place, 17.7 nm behind Camper. Average speeds vary from 13 knots for Groupama 4, to 9.8 knots for Telefónica and the fleet is divided by 40.2 nm from Camper in first place and Puma 40.2 nm back in sixth.

Volvo Ocean Race website