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20 February 2012, 12:31 pm
Slow Start As Fleet Brace For Tough Conditions Ahead
Roberto Bermudez De Castro
Roberto Bermudez De Castro on the bow of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand

Volvo Ocean Race
Sanya, China

Overall leaders Team Telefónica slowly led the fleet out of Sanya on the Leg 4 pursuit race to Auckland early on Monday and into what is expected to be hugely challenging conditions and testing tactical manoeuvres.
Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain in light winds at the start leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.

"It's good that the organisers have seen fit to keep us out of the eye of the storm. My wife is happy with that, my children are happy with that and my insurer is happy with that," - Telefónica watch leader Neal McDonald.

Less than 24 hours after the six teams completed the 43-nautical mile Leg 4 Stage 1 coastal race and locked in their staggered start times, the crews were dockside in the dawn gloom and departing without the usual fanfare.

The boats crept rather than raced out of the southern Chinese port with barely a breath of wind under leaden, heavily overcast skies.

The Spanish team departed to little more than a "C'mon Team Telefónica" from navigator Andrew Cape and applause from the shore crew before starting at 0700 local time on Monday (2300 GMT).

Groupama sailing team were second off the line, starting two minutes and 32 seconds after Telefónica. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were third to kick off, followed by Team Sanya and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand.

A sombre-looking Ken Read appeared dockside once most of the fleet had departed with his PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG setting off 39 minutes and 17 seconds after Telefónica following a calamitous stage one performance when his boat was overtaken by the entire fleet having grabbed a big early lead.

The pursuit start was part of race management's decision to split the leg into two stages to mitigate the risk of potentially boat-breaking conditions - - 40 knot winds and eight metre waves in the South China Sea.

"It's good that the organisers have seen fit to keep us out of the eye of the storm. My wife is happy with that, my children are happy with that and my insurer is happy with that," said Telefónica watch leader Neal McDonald.

But having raced in the treacherous seas that broke three boats during the 2008-09 race McDonald said he was preparing for the worst.

"No doubt there will be some very big leftover waves, and despite the wind being a more manageable breeze I suspect there will be boat-breaking conditions and we'll need to be careful,'' he said.

Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker said his team's race preparations had centred around ensuring that the boat and crew were ready for what was in store.

Without the typical departure ceremony and quick-fire in-shore test first, Walker said his crew would be able to get straight into the rhythm of ocean racing.

"Without the usual show and around-the-bay race we can just settle straight into what we do best,''
he said.

"We're ready for this. We've worked through what we think are our weak points and we've moded the boat a little bit differently for stronger air and upwind for this leg.

"We've also made our life jackets more accessible and all our personal gear is set up for easy access in difficult conditions.''

Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said the 5,220-nautical mile race to Auckland was going to be one of the most challenging of the 39,000-nautical mile race to date.

According to Infante, perfect timing will be required over the first three days to negotiate the tricky stretch of the South China Sea between Sanya and the Strait of Luzon.

Infante expects the extreme conditions of the previous few days to begin to lessen as the southerly located low dissipated over the next day or so.

However, this could leave behind a difficult sea state making it imperative that the fleet make it through the Strait of Luzon as quickly as possible to hook into stronger, steadier breezes from a newly developing low pressure system to the north east.

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