The start/stop continues in the Volvo with the 100 sprint to Sharjah. Matthew Sheahan reports

“Leg 3 is a strange leg”, said the current overall race leader Iker Martinez of Team Telefonica. “Five hours after we start, we will be back in our hotel as the boats are loaded onto the ship that will take them back to the secret safe haven.”

Not the conventional way of starting an offshore stage of the Volvo Ocean race, but with the current piracy issues in the Indian Ocean, this race has been anything but conventional. Those trying to following the Ocean classic know it, but so too do the crew, Puma skipper Kenny Read summed up.

“It’s been very difficult to get into the rhythm of this event,” he said. “It’s been difficult for sailing teams, difficult for shore crews and difficult for families. The race feels disjointed so far and we’re looking forward to getting this part of it over with and getting out there and into our stride.”

But as today’s start played out, there was yet more frustration for Read to bear before he and his team could stretch their legs.

Racing kicked off with a reaching start in which Telefonica and Camper proved to be the best of the starters.

Having had a difficult week in the practice, Pro/Am and in port racing in which they scored a last place in the latter, Iker Martinez’ Telefonica team came flying out of the blocks to round the first mark in the lead. Hot on her heels was Camper as the pair reinforced the current overall standings. Third around was Groupama followed by Puma and then Abu Dhabi who in less than 24 hours have explored both ends of this five boat fleet.

At the second mark of the course nothing had changed in the order as the fleet switched gear from their fractional code zero to their J1 jibs and wound up onto the beat.

But then a shuffle in the pack took place. As several boats tacked off onto starboard, Abu Dhabi held on out to the right hand side of the beat and in doing so managed either through more breeze, a shift, or both, to haul herself back into the pack to round the weather mark in second place, trailing Telefonica by just 24 secs. A big recovery by the home team.

Behind them Camper rounded in third, Puma fourth and Groupama dropping back into fifth. From here it was the first of two downwind legs in the triangular stage of this preamble to Leg 3.

There has been a sense during the last two weeks that the pressure has been staring to build aboard Puma. Clearly the team had a disastrous start to the overall series, losing their mast on the first leg. A lacklustre performance followed on leg two and in the in port race yesterday they finished second to last after having to perform a penalty turn. Word on the dock last night was that skipper Read was more than simply frustrated at the team’s performance around the cans having been sure they could win the race.

Today a hint of that frustration was in evidence as the red mist came down on Puma as Read threw an unnecessary and aggressive luff into Groupama – all this achieved was to ensure that Groupama made it through to weather while the rest of the fleet extended their distance.

By the time the gybe came at the corner of the course, Telefonica and Abu Dhabi had hauled out more distance on the rest of the fleet as they rounded over 2 minutes ahead.

While the distances at the this stage were gauged in a few minutes, the risk for the back markers was that with a forecast of 25 knots building from offshore, the leading pair would benefit first and see the rich get richer.

By the last mark of the in port part of this short leg to Sharjah, the fleet had spread out for the drag race up the coast. Yet there was one boat in particular that was drawing attention, Groupama.

Since smoking into the finish at the end of leg 2 and overtaking Telefonica in a ball of spray, Groupama’s reaching performance has been one of the big topics of discussion all week. As the breeze built today and the fleet settled down, the French boat skippered by Frank Cammas (and that surprised many with a second place in yesterday’s in port race) was looking threatening.

But by the finish there was another shuffle in the fleet as Ian Walker took the lead within the last two miles and finished at 1631 UTC. The last two races may have been short, but by winning both in home waters, Ian Walker’s team is sending out a clear message that despite their setbacks, they are here to compete for the top trophy.

Another team to be relieved at changing its fortunes was Puma Ocean Racing who had had a miserable start to this leg. In third was Groupama sailing followed by the early runaway leaders Telefónica placed fourth and Camper fifth.

The fleet will now be loaded onto a ship in Sharjah and transported to a safe haven port in the Indian Ocean. Once the boats are unloaded, racing to Sanya will resume around January 23, and the first boats could reach Sanya by February 4.

1. Team Telefonica 71
2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 64
3. Groupama sailing team 51
4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 36
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 31
6. Team Sanya 4*

* If Team Sanya complete Leg 2 Stage 1 in racing conditions they will score the following points: 4pts for Leg 2 Stage 1, 1pt for Leg 2 Stage 2 and 2pts for Abu Dhabi In-Port Race (a total of 7pts).