posted on 28/05/2012: 716 views
Atlantic Ocean - A resurgent Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - the Abu Dhabi-backed entry in the nine-month Volvo Ocean Race - has powered to the 3,590 nautical mile trans-Atlantic Leg 7 lead, after a number of deft tactical decisions saw the team outmanoeuvre the five-strong chasing pack.
Having set off in style from Miami, USA last weekend, the fleet sailed straight into the Gulf Stream and a tropical depression, before being forced to head north to dodge a high pressure system blocking the direct path towards Lisbon. In a leg of two distinct halves, it was Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing which attained maximum gain.
Speaking from onboard the team's Volvo Open 70 race yacht, Azzam, which means determination in Arabic, skipper Ian Walker said their more than 85 nautical mile lead was down to smart thinking by navigator Jules Salter who picked the perfect path through shifting breezes and swirling Atlantic currents to a low pressure system that packs the power to catapult them to within a couple of hundred miles of the finish.
"It's been a great sailing for Azzam. A big dilemma between sailing for the predicted right hand shift and going left to get in the Gulf Stream created a big split in the fleet and lots of opportunity. This is exactly what we need as we can get away from the other boats and try to find something tactically. Jules did a nice job as we initially tried to play the current but on finding it wasn't as forecasted we decided to take the shift instead," said Walker, who led the team to its third In-Port Race win last week in Miami, sending Azzam to joint first in the overall in-port standings.
Currently halfway through the leg to Lisbon, Portugal, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has encountered the full spectrum of weather so far, from tropical storms in the opening stages to yacht-halting wind holes, which the team has just navigated through.
"We have just escaped from the fickle winds of the high pressure area and we are once again making good progress east north east along our planned route. It has been a strange 24 hours. It was a period where we thought we stood to make reasonable mileage gains on our opponents but were held frustratingly pinned by light winds as the high pressure centre moved further east and therefore closer to us than envisaged. The wind kept building and offering promise before dying away as fast as it had arrived. At times we were becalmed and going backwards in the current. We cannot be greedy as the important thing is that we have negotiated a very tricky part of the race course and we are still leading. It has been another stellar nights sailing with clear skies and a moon that grows more prominent every night. It is chilly enough for thermals and hats but not for gloves just yet. Ahead of us now lies a lot of running in medium winds which means the mileage to Lisbon should once again start to tick down fast," added Walker.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's watch-leader, and Volvo Ocean Race winner, Rob Greenhalgh, said the team was cautiously optimistic and that the final run in will be critical.
"There is a lot of runway ahead of us still, so it's vital that we continue to sail smart, not just fast, and remember what's waiting for us just off Portugal. The next four days should be a good test for all of us both mentally and physically. We're just happy to be upfront mixing things up a bit. North Atlantic weather systems are never easy, and this particular crossing is proving just how many elements are at work out here," said the 2005/06 race winner.
The six-strong fleet is expected in Lisbon on May 31st 2012, where it will break for 10 days before heading on to L'Orient, France then to the finish in Galway, Ireland in early July.
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