Leaders of Leg 1 into Southern Hemisphere as match race continues

Wednesday 16th November

Volvo Ocean Race frontrunners PUMA and Telefónica crossed the Equator
within an hour of each other today – as third-placed CAMPER warned they
could still win Leg 1 of the round the world yacht race.

Groupama sailing team, France’s first entry in the race in 18 years,
slipped 24 hours behind the leaders after being snared by the Doldrums, a
band of fluky weather lying a few hundred miles north of the Equator
where the world’s weather systems converge.

Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG passed into the Southern
Hemisphere at 1055 UTC after a quick run through the Doldrums. Hot on
their heels as ever were Iker Martínez’s Telefónica, chasing their
rivals across the Equator just 50 minutes later.

Tradition dictates that when boats cross the Equator first-timers
must go before King Neptune and his court to be punished for former
sins. On board PUMA it was 22-year-old helmsman Rome Kirby and media
crewman Amory Ross, 27, in the crosshairs.

“Let’s just say they were both terrified,” explained skipper Read,
who took on the role of official videographer for the ceremony.

“Kenny was brutal with the camera,” Ross joked. “I have a new
perspective of life in front of a camera after those five minutes. Ken’s
got the whole thing on tape. He made me swear I would have someone from
the crew present when editing the video and photos.”

At the 1300 UTC position report CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand
trailed the fleet leaders by 157 nautical miles. But with more than
half of the leg still to sail, and with boat speed averaging a healthy
12 knots, skipper Chris Nicholson said their race was far from over.

Asked whether his team could still win Leg 1, Nicholson replied:
“Absolutely. We’ve got 4,000 miles to go. We’ve got the hammer down as
hard as we can go. Number one for us is to show a little bit of
patience, chip away and wear these guys down over the next 15 days or
so. We’ve got to not do anything too risky, just work away at our game
plan. There are a lot of miles to go and we’re desperate to get back in
the fight with these guys.”

The mood was not so upbeat on Groupama, led by French offshore
yachtsman Franck Cammas. The team paid dearly for a tactical error early
in the leg, opting to hug the African coast instead of punching west
into the Atlantic. To make matters worse, the crew were then swallowed
up by the Doldrums, causing their speed to drop massively and their grip
on the fleet loosen further. At the 1300 UTC report they were more than
350 nm – or 24 hours’ sailing – behind PUMA.

“The weather files indicate a vast windless area ahead of us,” their
media crew member Yann Riou said this morning. “Weather models are not
very reliable in the region and you cannot really rely on them, but
still it’s not very encouraging.

“Squalls, tacking, jibing, wind, no wind. For the people who like
manoeuvres it’s great, but for the ones who expected to use this
opportunity to gain on our competitors it’s not so good.”

PUMA and Telefónica were expected to round the Brazilian archipelago
of Fernando de Noronha, the Leg 1 waypoint, in the early hours of
Thursday. From there the fleet will have to tackle the St Helena High, a
huge, continually morphing area of high pressure sitting in between
them and the Leg 1 finish line in Cape Town.

Photo: Kelvin Harrap driving PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG’s “Mar Mostro”
in fast conditions. during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from
Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

For more information visit Volvo Ocean Race