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10 June 2012, 05:33 pm
Puma Lead Fleet Out On Make Or Break Leg 8
Puma Take The Lead
Puma Take The Lead

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 8
Lisbon,Portugal

The battle for victory in the closest Volvo Ocean Race ever resumed on Sunday, with PUMA leading the fleet out towards the Atlantic on the critical Leg 8 race to Lorient, France that has a looming storm front with the potential to make or break the boats.
After a short inshore course on Lisbon's Tagus River, which memorably featured Portuguese soccer legend Luís Figo jumping off the stern of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the fleet of six started the 1,940 nautical mile race.

While Leg 8 is the shortest of the race yet, it will by no means be easy sailing as the teams negotiate the light conditions of the Azores High before confronting a potentially gale force low-pressure system in the North Atlantic, with no margin for error.

Just how much the teams are prepared to risk may prove critical at this stage in the race, with just 23 points separating the top four and only four scoring opportunities remaining before the end of the race.

Groupama remain at the top of the overall race leaderboard having won Saturday's Oeiras In-Port Race, but they hold just an eight-point buffer over second-placed Team Telefónica, making their position anything but secure.

Groupama trimmer Charles Caudrelier said having the chance to cross the finish line at their home port in front of a home crowd as overall race leaders was a dream come true, but it was one that would prove difficult to realise.

"It's a dream that could quickly be broken by teams like PUMA or Telefónica, for example, especially PUMA who are doing very well now,'' he said. "We're not that far ahead either. Our goal is to win the next leg but it will be tough."

Preparing to upset the French is PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG skipper Ken Read. Read reckons the opening days of tight reaching towards the mark of São Miguel in the Azores would suit Groupama, but after that his team would be ready to pounce.

"It's going to be tight reaching in breeze and conditions that Groupama have been quite strong in, so we're going to need a little help,'' Read said.

"We're going to try a few new things, but it hasn't been our strongest condition, so we might be in a position where we have to just hang on in the tight reaching and hopefully in the power running after the Azores we'll do some damage then."

Talk of damage of a different kind is already mounting, with the fleet expected to encounter a potentially ferocious low pressure system mid-race in the North Atlantic.

CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said every team will have to ask themselves just how hard they are prepared to push in the heavy conditions.

"Boats will break, we're hoping we're not one of them, but boats will definitely break in those conditions,''
he said. "Or, you have to throttle back a long way. There's a lot of risk and reward on this leg. "

Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said the fleet would accelerate out of the mouth of the Tagus River in a west-northwest breeze of about 15 knots, which would ease as they approach São Miguel about 780 nautical miles away.

Infante said the fleet would compress on the approach to São Miguel where they would enter the centre of the Azores High where there was potential for the teams to come to a halt for 12 to 18 hours on Tuesday.

Just who rounds the island first will be key in the race, Infante said. "Once they round the island they will slingshot in a low pressure system,'' he said.

"Depending on the speed of the system as it moves east the teams could encounter westerly winds up to 40 knots and a huge sea state."


Infante reckons the first team could arrive in Lorient, France by late Friday night.

Each of the offshore legs offers 30 points to the winner, 25 for second, 20 for third, 15 for fourth, 10 for fifth and five for sixth. The hour-long in-port races score at 20 percent of that rate - six points for first, five for second and so on down to a single point for sixth.

This is the 11th edition of an event that began life as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973 and never before have four teams been in with a realistic chance of winning with less than 10 days of offshore sailing to go.
Volvo Ocean Race
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