x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Azzam surrenders early lead as weather poses a big challenge

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were edged out of the lead by Team Telefonica after a day of nip and tuck sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Azzam took an early lead yesterday, staying close to the South Africa coast, but unpredictable weather hindered the team’s progress and saw them fall behind Team Telefonica.
Azzam took an early lead yesterday, staying close to the South Africa coast, but unpredictable weather hindered the team’s progress and saw them fall behind Team Telefonica.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were edged out of the lead by Team Telefonica after a day of nip and tuck sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Azzam had slipped into first place by taking a route close to the South Africa coast that allowed the Abu Dhabi boat to avoid the worst of the rough weather and strong currents that slowed others in the fleet.

But last night Azzam was eight nautical miles behind the Spanish entry as the yachts headed for Abu Dhabi.

"After making big gains on the fleet by hugging the coast we have been running hard all night in 20-30 knots," Ian Walker, the skipper, said. "We made it through without breakages by slowing down and nursing the boat."

Azzam was still in front as the fleet sailed out of the dreaded Agulhas current and headed into the Indian Ocean before losing the lead to Team Telefonica yesterday evening.

While the crews were happy to have survived the huge waves that give the Agulhas zone its fearsome reputation, they continued to face unpredictable weather.

Yesterday evening Walker said in a team blog on the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing website: "Right now we have the equivalent of a road block in the form of a trough lying North South across the fleet's path.

"Just like a lorry blocking the fast lane, if any of us can find a way past we will have an unimpeded road ahead to blast East.

"Until then we will no doubt have a series of false dawns as the wind drops and lifts, we gybe onto port and think we are into the new wind before the Westerly once again catches us up and destroys our hopes. Fingers crossed we will punch through before too long as the prize could be great for whoever succeeds."

Two low pressure systems are expected to merge in the next 24 hours. If this happens the resulting storm system could give the fleet a super fast ride into the Indian Ocean on their way to Abu Dhabi.

By last night, Puma Ocean Racing were third, followed by Camper/Emirates Team New Zealand, Team Sanya and Groupama Sailing Team.

* Agency