Battle for survival set to begin

Warash's Ian Walker and Jules Salter onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi
Warash's Ian Walker and Jules Salter onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi

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The crews of the Volvo Ocean Race are braced for a bashing when they return to the fray on Sunday amid conditions which will force them into survival mode, according to one race insider.

They may also face strong winds during the in-port race being held in the Chinese stop-over harbour tomorrow, but should at least be protected from the potentially boat-breaking sea state predicted for open waters at the start of the 5,200-mile leg from Sanya to Auckland.

‘The weather conditions forming in the South China Sea at the moment will definitely provide the teams with the most challenging start to a leg so far,’ said the race’s chief meteorologist Gonzalo Infante, who is forecasting north-easterly winds of between 35 and 40 knots.

‘Conditions will be very dangerous, pushing man and boat close to the extreme.

‘Only a very small area in the centre of the South China Sea is affected by big waves – from six to eight metres.

‘However, the affected area will grow and by Saturday the whole South China Sea will be affected by this sea state.

‘The high wind speeds will mean the boats go quicker and in turn jump off the huge waves, creating very dangerous conditions.

‘Ultimately, the teams will have to go into survival mode to make it through the South China Sea unscathed.’

Sanya Bay itself is protected by a mountain range which will shield the fleet from the monsoon winds during tomorrow’s short-course inshore race.

Race leaders Telefonica have taken heed of the forecast and installed their replacement mast and rigging before the restart, needing little reminding that two of the six-strong fleet were dismasted on the first leg.

One of these was the Abu Dhabi entry Azzam, skippered by Warsash’s Ian Walker.

While the team has won two in-port races, they have failed to do better than fifth on the three offshore legs to date – a dire trend they hope to reverse.

With little historical data to go on, many believe the leg to Auckland could be the most tactically challenging of the race – offering an opportunity to Azzam’s astute crew and highly-experienced navigator Jules Salter from the Isle of Wight.

‘We have some weather data for the leg,’ said Salter.

‘What we miss, though, is the fact that no-one races through these areas, and perceived wisdom from cruising records does not give the detail we need to verify the accuracy of the models.

‘The best approach will be to keep an open mind.

‘I think this makes it fascinating to see how things will pan out.’

While aware of the forecast, Salter, who won the race in 2008-09 with Ericsson 4 and was a runner up in 2005-6 aboard Pirates of the Caribbean, indicated that the crew could be going for it.

‘We do not want to damage Azzam, her sails, rig or crew so early into a long leg but if you can take a risk and get a jump, it is probably something we have to do to get some good points.

‘We need to keep finding extra performance from the yacht and keep developing techniques on how we sail it.’