Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Volvo Ocean Race fleet prepares to tackle the unknown

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race begins on Saturday when the crews will race to Asia for the first time in the 35-year history of the race. Cochin, India is the finish port and the leg represents a sea change for the race.

The start of leg two is scheduled for 1300, local time (1100 GMT), on Table Bay, just outside the V+A Waterfront that has played host to the fleet since they arrived less than two weeks ago.

With just three days until the start, the teams are preparing for the challenges of leg two. Traditionally, southern ocean storms, towering seas, horrendous cold and icebergs have been the principal challenges of the leg out of Cape Town. This time, there will be a brief dive into the Roaring Forties (below 40-degrees latitude), before the fleet turns north towards India.

At a briefing on Wednesday morning, the teams learned about the new challenges they were likely to encounter, including small, potentially unlit, local fishing fleets, commercial traffic. As well, the hazard of piracy, not uncommon off the east coast of Africa, was discussed at length. An exclusion zone has been set up, to the northwest of Mauritius, to keep the fleet well clear of the most dangerous area of known piracy.

“One thing we are particularly worried about is the chance of hitting one of these small wooden fishing vessels that are hard to detect,” said Ken Read, the skipper of PUMA. “There are so many of these boats in some of the areas we visit that you can almost walk from coast to coast on them. We are entering completely uncharted territory for sailboat racing. We are going to have to be smart, use common sense and we need to understand as a group that we are in this together. If there is a situation out there that we do not like we are going to have to agree as a group to share information.”

“We are not going to be paranoid about sailing this route,” added Fernando Echávarri, the skipper of Telefónica Black. “But now we are aware of what might happen and what to do if it does.”

The race from Cape Town to Cochin is 4,450 miles and the leader is expected to finish around December 3. Along the way, a scoring gate has been defined along the meridian of 58-degrees east. It is a big gate – the only restriction is to pass north of Antarctica and south of Mauritius (20-degrees south latitude).

In effect, the gate adds further motivation to dive south out of Cape Town, to pick up a strong westerly in the southern ocean to race east to the gate. An interesting strategic choice to keep on eye on is when the teams turn north for India. The gate provides incentive to stay south for longer; but the real prize, the leg win, may require a different strategy.

The weather in Cape Town has turned this week and gale force winds are presenting a challenge to the teams as they prepare their boats for the two and half week leg. However, the forecast is for more moderate conditions as a high-pressure system settles over the region for the weekend.

As a stopover port, Cape Town has lived up to its reputation as a haven for seafarers. The ‘tavern of the seas’ has provided first-class hospitality on every level to the sailors of the Volvo Ocean Race. In turn, the sailors have participated in public Q+A sessions with over 700 scouts. In addition, the local IsiVunguVungu Sailing Academy hosted a three-day Youth Sailing Academy at the Race village, with the participation of many of the Volvo sailors.

But the focus now turns to the yacht race ahead, as the hours count down to the start of leg two



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