After a day of reasonably high speeds and easy sailing, at 1600 UTC today the Leg 6 lead changed again when CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) regained pole position followed by sparring partner Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR).
After separating earlier in the leg, with CAMPER and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing taking a route close to the shore, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) choosing the middle road, and Telefónica and Groupama, who are struggling to keep pace with the Spanish boat, taking the offshore option, the courses of the five boats are beginning to fuse once more.
Tonight they are picking their way across a permanent and stationary cold front, a 50-mile wide area of storms that has produced a 180-degree wind shift and is now throwing out a much lighter north westerly breeze. As the fleet tacks back and forth around the thunderclouds, separation has started to reduce and at 1900, 30.4 nautical miles (nm) covered the fleet from CAMPER in first place to Groupama in fifth.
Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) are still offshore, intent on covering each other and guarding their positions of first and second in the overall rankings. PUMA who took the lead briefly earlier today, in fourth place on the overall scoreboard, are free to sail their own race, while CAMPER and Abu Dhabi, just 0.4 nm apart, have steered away from the coast and are racing towards the outriders and take on the challenge of the storm area.
The frontal line is light and fluky and just one cloud can rain on the parade of any of the teams and shake up the leg leaderboard up dramatically. The next 12 – 24 hours will be something of a lottery until the first boat reaches the northern edge, however all are confident in the positions they have chosen as they work their way towards Cabo Branco, the easternmost tip of Brazil, 650 nm or so ahead.
“We’re fairly happy with our position. At this stage we wouldn’t swap positions with the guys inshore and we are fairly comfortable with where we are,” said PUMA navigator, Tom Addis.
“Traditionally, from here on up, once you pop on out into the trade winds on the northern side, being east is the thing that is worthwhile, and we are west of our opposition. We are going to try to keep working east and hopefully, when the music starts again on the other side, we will be far enough east to lay Recife in the north of Brazil,” explained Will Oxley, navigator of CAMPER.
“I’m happy with our eastern position,” said Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias. “It’s a bit more logical and I feel it’s less hazardous than the course taken by Abu Dhabi and CAMPER,” he added.
There is at least 100 nm of tricky sailing to complete before the fleet punches through the front and reaches the reasonable breeze on the other side, when the winners will be easy to see and the not so lucky will be searching hard to find a passing lane.
Volvo Ocean Race fans in the US and especially Miami, might have to pull out their Zunes and iPads and rock to that infamous Deniece Williams’s tune – “Let’s Hear It For The Boys” as Team PUMA have wasted no time displaying their intentions to claim stakes in the winner’s circle, when Leg 6 comes to a close Miami, Florida.
After all the Leg 6 start for Team PUMA seems like a special challenge, as the warmth, beauty and conditions of the caribbean waters could be the “home cooking” that Team PUMA will need, as they venture out for the Miami stop-over. This is truly a big deal for the PUMA as their stop in Miami, will be the only one in the US for the 2012 Volvo Ocean Race.
PUMA leads the fleet out of Itajaí and into the first few crucial days of the 4,800 nautical mile course to Miami. After the completion of a six-leg in-shore course race off the coast of Itajia, Team PUMA powered by BERG is followed by Team Telefonica, Camper/Emirates Team New Zealand, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Groupama sailing team. The five teams are in hot-pursuit of the maximum 30 points, which could prove vital as overall leaders Telefónica hold just a 16-point lead over second-placed Groupama with four legs to go.
The fleet will face more moderate conditions than those encountered in previous leg starts, with about 14 knots from the southeast creating perfect reaching conditions for the opening hours. With conditions likely to favor Groupama, who have proven time and time again that they are the team to beat on a reaching racetrack. The weather is expected to intensify as the crews near the South Brazil Bight, where a violent low-pressure system with wind in excess of 30 knots awaits.
“We can enjoy this leg a lot, it has a lot of good conditions, a lot of reaching conditions,” Groupama skipper Franck Cammas said. “It’s good for the crew, it’s good for the boat, and I think we can manage this Volvo Open 70 very well in these conditions.” But, with CAMPER on the hunt for their first offshore leg victory, no one can rest easy. Co-skipper Stu Bannatyne said his team mates were ready to rumble. “It’s going to be a very tough leg, all the boats will be very tough to beat,” the six-time Volvo veteran said.
As the teams look forward to their “voyage” to Miami, it goes without saying that PUMA will need the cheers and fanfare from local sailing fans, who are interactively involved with the Teams via the various social media and even downloadable applications for the Android and iPhones.
There are plenty of other weather obstacles littering the course from Itajaí including tropical weather systems, strong currents and the dreaded Doldrums.
A tricky transition from the low-pressure system into the south-southeast trade winds will also be crucial. The teams will have to weigh up whether they choose to chase the trade winds further offshore, or take advantage of a strong coastal current and sea breezes inshore in the race to the Caribbean.
The final 1,300 nm stage from the Caribbean to the Miami finish line could prove to be a drag race, but violent lows that develop in the Gulf of Mexico and north of Florida near Cape Hatteras could give rise to an overtaking lane.