A tricky night on board “Telefónica” with the South Pacific beginning to display some of its might, with strong winds that have seen the fleet almost devour miles across the board. However, the hardest part is still yet to come and as Iker Martínez reminded us from on board the boat: “It looks like we're back in the South Pacific. The wind is picking up and if things go to plan we'll soon be picking up some real speed.”
This time the South Pacific has broken with tradition. Nothing has played out like it has on other occasions and the confusion has spread right across the fleet, reaching the “Telefónica” crew on its way. The Spanish team made a bid for the South with the aim of catching the squalls that would push them East before anybody else, but the situation took a 360 degree turn which meant that the team's initial plans went to pot.
“I simply can't disguise the fact that I'm furious with the situation we're in, having fought hard to be at the front for days on end, then hitting the transition with the light airs and the other boats catching up and now, when we want to be up ahead with more breeze, we're behind with less. Something unexpected happened. We'd never have thought that to the North they'd have had the same breeze and such a favourable shift. There was a separation of just a few miles and now we're 30 miles from 'Groupama' and that will predictably increase over the next 24 hours, although only by a little, we hope,” said the skipper during the early hours of the morning.
At 13:15 UTC the Spanish boat was 50 miles from the top spot in the fleet, sailing at an average speed of 21.3 knots with winds of up to 22 knots and gusts of 30 knots.
Planning the attack
Nothing can be taken for granted in this fifth leg. At less than 500 miles from the western point of the start of the ice exclusion zone, the Spanish team's aim is clear: to keep up the pace of the frontrunners who are sailing with more breeze and to move in on them by catching the front moving in, and as Iker comments: “We are going to try to latch on to the ones in front, or at least try not to let them get away further than what we'd consider to be an acceptable distance from here to the safety waypoint.” That means not dropping back too far back on the track and catching the next train that will push them forward with force.
For now the strong winds have raised a smile or two on board “Telefónica” and according to Diego Fructuoso: “The breeze has moved in and we have begun some downwind sailing. We're all happy as this is almost a new sensation for us in the entire race so far. These are some 'Lanzarote conditions', as we call them here on board. Now we've got some 20 knots of breeze but it will pick up and Cape thinks that tomorrow we'll get to 30 to 35 knots.”
As expected ahead of the tough conditions that “Telefónica” is facing, safety is key, as Iker underlined: “We've got some tough days ahead, with some fast sailing where handling the boat is going to be very important and where I hope we will be able to keep everything under control and to be fast at the same time. Hereon every night is going to be crucial in terms of the leg development. Problems normally crop up during the hours where visibility is low and where any small stall to check something or to make a sail change could potentially translate into a big loss.”
Now fully immersed in the 'Roaring Forties', on board “Telefónica” the cold is really starting to set in and for Diego Fructuoso, the team's MCM who is sailing the Southern Ocean for the first time, excitingly things are starting to look just like they did in the stories he'd been told: “It's getting colder and colder and we've seen some huge albatrosses. The waves are growing too and the next few days are going to be pretty intense but great. As I'm writing, Pepe has just called me out on deck to see a huge whale. I took some photos, although I'm not sure how they'll come out. Iker said he saw another huge one last night. We have to be careful not to crash into them as we could really sustain some damage.”
PROVISIONAL RANKINGS LEG 5
AUCKLAND (NEW ZEALAND) – ITAJAÍ (BRAZIL): 6,705 miles
Day 5 – 13:16 UTC – 22nd March 2012
1. Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas), 5,424 miles from finish
2. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), +3.9 miles
3. Puma Ocean Racing (Ken Read), +25.9 miles
4. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), +50.7 miles
5. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), +130 miles
6. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), +381.1 miles
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