x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Volvo Ocean Race teams caught up in varying speed winds

Azzam make some progress but Telefonica could gain farther ground as they benefit from heading in the north direction.

Stu Bannatyne, the Camper team watch captain, is left pondering the best options for Emirates Team New Zealand.
Stu Bannatyne, the Camper team watch captain, is left pondering the best options for Emirates Team New Zealand.

Follow the LIVE RACE TRACKER of all six teams

Strong winds and heavy rain created a "second start line" for the Volvo Ocean Race yesterday as the six yachts continued to shuffle positions.

Ken Read, the skipper of Puma Ocean Racing, described the conditions as some of the most frustrating and mentally exhausting of his career.

The crews have reported the wind dropping to less than 10 knots and just minutes later gusting to more than 25 knots, making for countless sail changes and exhausted sailors.

Read said despite more than 100 nautical miles between the leader Telefonica in the north and Groupama in the south, the unpredictable conditions meant there was very little separating the fleet in the voyage to Abu Dhabi.

"It is anyone's race, more so than any race I've been in in my life,'' he said. "This is crazy. It's 100 per cent a second start line.

"It's been hard and very taxing mentally trying to deal with it all. Each time we sit here and talk about it we make an argument that we would rather be further north or further south."

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were in second place by just under 20 nautical miles, followed by Team Sanya, Puma, Camper/Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama.

Telefonica appeared to benefit from navigator Andrew Cape's decision to take the most northern course as the six teams were all trying to chase down the same high-speed front.

On Azzam, the Abu Dhabi boat, Ian Walker, the skipper, resorted to sending the bowman, Justin Slattery, up the mast to scout for wind. The team soon sighted a cloud sporting a decent breeze, leading the helmsman/trimmer Simon Fisher to shout: "Right fellas, that's our ticket off this pond. Let's get 'er done!"

Azzam sustained decent speeds, but Nick Dana, the media crew member, said the team expected the more northerly positioned Telefonica would make further gains.

"We are starting to believe that Telefonica's slight course change to the north might pay off in a few of the latest weather models," he said. "No doubt their navigator will be chancing their possible break from the fleet for big gains."

Walker said the weather that slowed the fleet was the equivalent of a safety car in Formula One racing.

"Sanya were over 60 miles behind us yesterday and now we can see them right up behind us," he said. "It's always nice to have a boat in sight but its annoying to have lost such a big margin so quickly.

"The only real question for navigators and skippers is where to position yourself on the north-south axis in the line up behind the safety car."

However, Groupama, the team on the most southerly course, were last night more than 100 nautical miles behind the leader.