While light winds may have been expected for the start of Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China, the fog came as a surprise

While light winds may have been expected for the start of Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China, the fog came as a surprise. The reduced visibility made getting around the closed course part of the start even more tricky as teams struggled to see the marks that they were supposed to be rounding.

But by the time the fleet had completed the inshore section of this 4,642 nautical mile leg to China it was Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Racing that had taken the lead.

“Leading the fleet, we were hunted all night,” said Abu Dhabi’s on board reporter Matt Knighton. “Looking at the map in the nav station you might have assume we had stretched out to a comfortable lead as we passed the bright lights of Dubai. Jumping on deck however, the smaller, familiar lights of Dongfeng and Brunel were eerily close just 1 mile behind.

“Racing towards the Musandam Peninsula, we weaved our way through huge fields of oil tankers and oil fields in the bright moonlight – a familiar practice we’d rehearsed on the way in. This will be the only portion of the entire race where we where sail back the way we came.

“At sunrise we rounded the tip of the peninsula, rehearsing the same strategy we’d used at the end of Leg 2. We watched as Brunel and Dongfeng went inside ‘the gap’ and we opted to sail further distance around the outside.

Ian commented, “It might be their death on the other side of that gap. Still, we haven’t got a free ride either. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

“Sure enough, we’ve all slowed now. The calm and glassy waters of the Gulf of Oman are not very welcoming as the bow of Azzam slaps on the water. We’re looking forward to getting out of here and sailing into unfamiliar waters once again.”

But as the fleet passed through the Strait of Hormuz and worked their way towards more open waters the lead changed as Dongfeng shuffled their way past Abu Dhabi to take a slim lead.

Clearly, if the past two legs are anything to go by there will be plenty more such shuffles in the pack for this closely matched fleet but what seems clear already it that it is the same three that are taking the top slots, Abu Dhabi, Donfeng Race Team and Team Brunel. All three are on equal points overall and the early signs at least suggest that this is going to be yet another offshore needle match, albeit with plenty of tactical hurdles to overcome.

The close proximity of land makes this leg a tactical one but particularly during the Malacca Strait, which separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Malaysia. At some stages, it narrows to 1.5nm and is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

“It’s the most challenging part of the whole race,” said Team Alvimedica navigator Will Oxley shortly before the start.

“I’m pretty happy dealing with big waves and strong winds, but the complexity of dealing with a narrow channel and a very large amount of shipping is what causes the problems.”

“Some 300ft of steel coming at you at 20 knots is always concerning, particularly if you haven’t got much control over your speed if there’s not much wind.

“Then you have squalls, very violent squalls in the night, and there’s lots of fishermen who are not showing navigation lights and have long nets. You can get tangled in the nets, or worse still, run someone over. So it’s very stressful.”