Team Sanya celebrated Chinese New Year's Eve by leading a full strength Volvo Ocean Race fleet off the start line on the 3,051-nautical mile Leg 3 second stage from the Maldives to their home port in China.
In hot and humid tropical conditions the fleet got away cleanly on schedule at 08:00 UTC on Sunday (13:00 local time in the Maldives) with Team Sanya
, the first sole Chinese entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, making the early running immediately after the start of their homecoming leg.
continued to scrap for the lead in the first few hours of sailing with less than half a nautical mile separating the six-boat fleet.
Speaking from the boat in a live video call after the start Chinese crew member Teng Jiang He, otherwise known as Tiger, confirmed that Team Sanya had got away to the best possible start.
"We had a perfect start this morning,"
he said. "We were the first boat to cross the start line and we are still in the lead now an hour and a half into the race."
Tiger is hoping the Year of the Dragon will herald a change in fortune for Sanya, who were forced out of Leg 1 inside the first 24 hours and also suffered rig damage in the first stage of Leg 2. He was hopeful of an arrival in Sanya in time the Lantern Festival in just over two weeks' time.
"I wish all people in China a great Chinese New Year,"
he said. "I also sincerely wish our boat a great prospect in the Year of the Dragon. The Lantern Festival is on February 6 so I hope we can arrive in Sanya before then and have a good celebration before the New Year festival period concludes."
By 11:00 UTC the closely packed fleet continued to track south easterly sailing line abreast on port tack separated by less than three nautical miles from north to south with all six boats working flat out for the lead.
At that time Ken Read's PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG
had taken up the most northerly position shadowed by overall race leader Team Telefónica skippered by Iker Martínez.
In the middle of the fleet Chris Nicholson's CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, Team Sanya
and Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
had formed a close knit bunch, while Franck Cammas' Groupama
sailing team were pursuing the most southerly route.
The Leg 3 second stage course will see the fleet cross the Bay of Bengal to the north west tip of Sumatra where they will enter the congested waters of the Malacca Strait before eventually turning north east to negotiate strong winds and steep waves in the South China sea on their way to the finish on the island of Sanya.
CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said he expected the fleet to face some extreme conditions after passing Singapore.
"It looks like we are in for a lot of breeze on the way up to China,"
he said. "The first 1000 miles isn't too bad, there's just the lighter trade winds, they get up to 15 knots at one stage, then we do the Malacca Strait. At the moment I think it looks quite light and quite tricky down there.
"Round the corner to Singapore it looks like we're in a for quite a rough time all the way to China. It's the sort of thing that if you can lead out of the Malacca Strait and you keep the pressure on I'd say it would be good. But will be quite boat breaking conditions."
By 12:00 UTC CAMPER
had eked out a narrow 0.3 nm lead over PUMA
, with Telefónica
holding on to third despite being significantly slowed by a breakage their headsail.
"It was a real shame because we were going very well,"
commented Media Crew Member Diego Fructuoso. "We're now working on repairing everything that broke -- Jordi (Calafat) and Zane (Gills) on the sail and Ñeti (Antonio Cuervas-Mons) and Pepe (Ribes) on the ropes.
"Now we have to get everything right and start our comeback,
" he added.
The boats will take around two weeks to complete Leg 2 with an estimated arrival in Sanya on or around February 6.
Eighty percent of the points for Leg 3 remain up for grabs, after the Stage 1 sprint from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah delivered the other 20 percent to all the teams except for Sanya, who will score full points for this stage*.
* As Sanya were unable to race the first stage of Leg 3, they will score full points for this leg - 30 points for 1st place, 25 for 2nd, 20 for 3rd, 15 for 4th, 10 for 5th, 5 for 6th. The other teams will score points on the following scale - 24 points for 1st, 20 for 2nd, 16 for 3rd, 12 for 4th, 8 for 5th, 4 for 6th.