The first ever sole Chinese entry in the Volvo Ocean Race has taken the lead on the second leg to Abu Dhabi after making a bold tactical decision which could see them take on a fearsome tropical storm in the Indian Ocean.
Team Sanya, skippered by New Zealand’s Mike Sanderson, broke away from the six-boat fleet yesterday and headed north towards a tropical depression containing 50-knot headwinds.
Taking a gamble
For the gamble to pay off, Sanderson needs the intense low pressure system to move east allowing Sanya to ‘thread the needle’ between the storm and Madagascar.
As the only boat in this race to have competed in the last edition (as Telefónica Blue), Team Sanya has struggled to match the raw power of the newer boats – a factor which Sanderson readily acknowledges and says leads naturally towards tactical risk-taking.
“I have been very clear on this from the very start of this campaign,” he said. “We are not fast enough through the water to win this race overall so we need to take opportunities like this to try to win a leg or get on the podium. We may only get an opportunity like this a few times in the race, where there is a chance to do something different. We worked very hard to try and talk ourselves out of it but at the end of the day we think this gives us the best chance of being in the hunt.”
Despite the prospect of facing storm conditions worse than those which eliminated Sanya from Leg 1 after damage to their bow left them close to sinking on the first night, Sanderson does not believe this latest strategy to be overly daring.
“I don’t expect anyone was terribly surprised to see us make this move. For sure all the navigators and skippers will have been stewing over this too for some time. There are several risks for sure. One is that we are heading into a reasonably large low pressure system where we could see as much as 50 knots of wind. The other risk is simply that we would have done better going the other way. We have been working so hard on this decision for so long and it certainly wasn’t spur of the moment. We will live by the sword or die by the sword so to speak.”
Groupama's extreme strategy
As Sanya forged north, Franck Cammas’ Groupama sailing team were following an equally extreme strategy 250 nautical miles to the south east. Twenty four hours earlier, Groupama had also left the pack, diving deep into the south before eventually looping back towards the north in more favourable breezes.
This forthright move propelled the French crew into second place by the 0700 UTC position report this morning but had not been without problems according to media crew member Yann Riou.
“We ended up in some kind of no man’s land,” he said. “It was a weird zone with several trains of waves coming together to create pyramidal waves which were impossible to cross without worrying about breaking the boat.”
Meanwhile the remaining boats were trying to shake themselves free of a transient wind zone that had slowed their progress for several days. At around midday today after sailing in close company for two days, Ken Read’s Puma and Chris Nicholson’s Camper both made the breakthrough into steadier conditions. Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica followed suit later in the afternoon.
After an opening week which saw the fleet closely packed, Sanya and Groupama’s extreme moves have thrown the second leg wide open and the skippers and navigators have some nervous days ahead as the three very different strategies play out.
By the 1300 UTC position report Team Sanya’s more northerly track put them closer to the race’s virtual waypoint and they remained at the top of the leaderboard. In the south, after becoming embroiled in the Indian Ocean high pressure system, Groupama’s progress had been slowed by lighter winds. Still pushing east in search of trade wind sailing Puma, Camper and Team Telefónica remained in close company, with Abu Dhabi chasing hard to close them down.