The crews of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet set out yesterday on the 6,125-mile leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi
with warnings of possible cyclone activity and tropical storms ringing in their ears.
Race organisers took late measures to keep the 66 sailors away from the very worst of the weather on the Indian Ocean with a new exclusion zone leading to the Seychelles.
Zones were put in place on the last leg to avoid ice as the fleet dipped south, and one is already in place on this leg to avoid any possibility of the fleet straying into areas that might be preyed on by pirates. The latter zone was being kept secret from the public to avoid the possibility of the fleet being intercepted.
But the more pressing concern is of high winds on the leg to Abu Dhabi.
From the very start on Wednesday, the sailors were given a taste of things to come with gusts of up to 35 knots kicking up a choppy sea. Most crews opted for conservative sail choices as they wrestled to keep the boats under control and intact.
For the second leg start in a row, Team Brunel led the fleet out of port after wrestling the lead, first from MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP), and then Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) who were well in the hunt.
The fleet will continue to sail in these gale-force conditions, which Team Alvimedica skipper Charlie Enright (USA) described before the start as ‘heinous’.
“I think we’re all going to have to be pretty conservative,” he told the skippers’ press conference, just over 24 hours earlier. “This could be the worst sea state these boats have ever seen.”
Favourites for the leg are Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), who have barely made a false move since setting out from Alicante on October 11.
They followed their 12-minute win over Dongfeng Race Team in Leg 1 on November 5, by securing victory on Saturday in the Cape Town in-port race.
When asked if there were such a thing as ‘home advantage’ in sailing, Walker, 44, was determined to keep his crew’s feet on the ground – as well as his own.
“First we have to get there,” he smiled. “I’ll be happy just to get within range and then arrive in Abu Dhabi. There’s a fantastic welcome for everybody in store once we get there, that’s for sure.”
Team Vestas Wind surprised onlookers when a choir on board their support boat burst into song just prior to the start. Their message was loud and clear: ‘There’s an even more important race we must win – to save the environment’.
Leg 2 is expected to take between 22 to 28 days to complete, depending on conditions. The boats will remain in Abu Dhabi over Christmas and the New Year before setting sail again on January 3 for Sanya, China.