The fleet compresses, the pressure rises and the wind dies – Latest news and blogs from the boats

One week after the restart of Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 in Male, Maldives, the race’s six-boat fleet has made its way south through the Malacca Strait, while confronting a multitude of natural and man-made dangers along this particular stretch of waterway.
The race officially entered the 500-mile long (800km) Strait of Malacca on Friday as Team Telefónica rounded Pulau We island narrowly ahead of the trailing fleet. With Telefónica, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and Groupama sailing team just 300 metres apart at times over the weekend as they headed south, the three lead boats were keeping a close eye on one another.

But as much as the teams focused on match racing each other, the race leaders and three other boats – CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya – were equally focused on the unique challenges posed by the Malacca Strait.
This stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra is the major shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, carrying roughly 25% of the world’s traded goods.
Three days into the Strait, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet has contended with massive commercial ships, unlit fishing vessels, underwater fishing nets and general ocean debris. The teams are on constant watch, with team navigators even asking commercial ships to alter course on occasion.

The Strait is also notorious for unpredictable weather with shifting winds and powerful currents common in the area. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand dropped anchor at one point over the weekend, due to lack of wind and strong currents.
As the race heads south towards Singapore Island on Monday, the racing boats will have to further contend with the congested Phillips Channel, which narrows to a width of just 1.5 miles (2.8km) before the fleet head north for their final push across the South China Sea and the Leg 3 finish into Sanya, China.

Team Telefónica currently lead the overall standings with 71 points to CAMPER’s 64. Groupama is in third place with 51 points. The race made a stop in Singapore during the 2008-09 edition.


Diego Fructuoso: “Here we are, sailing between freight ships and showers and doing all we can to defend our lead. We’ve reached a ‘transition’, which is a word that you will have heard us use a lot before. The wind shifted considerably to the right last night and we decided to gybe. The three boats behind us continued on course a bit further, usually that would be because the shift reaches them later. Right now we are in front with “Groupama” and “Puma” behind us. They may be in a good position for us because they are astern and no too far to the leeward side. If they were more to the lee side it would be different. “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand” chose to sail much closer to shore and is the furthest to the lee side by a long way in the fleet. In fact we are sailing with very different breeze. We hope that our option will be the one that comes good. The problem here, however, isn’t just the direction of the breeze, but the strength of it.”
“We’ve slept only a little, but Capey (Andrew Cape) and Iker (Martínez) have slept the least. They’ve been concentrating hard on finding the right option. Also with all of the shipping here we have to watch out.”
“They are going to be some tough miles because we’ve also got a ‘safety zone’ that we’re not allowed to go through and then there’s the coastline, which is very nearby. The area we have to sail through is just 15 miles wide, so there are a lot of manoeuvres in store.”

Well I guess its plain to see that our shoreline gamble didn’t pay. Not that it’s any consolation, but the conditions have been just as we predicted, what wasn’t predicted was the good relatively steady and constant breeze the 3 leading boats got. It’s a hard pill to swallow but the good thing is everybody onboard seems to have taken their medicine well and are just getting back on with the job on hand. There is still a long way to go, so no need to get negative on things yet.

Still over a thousand miles, and we will be using every single one of them to fight to get back to the front of the fleet. We had another relatively exciting night last night as we were crawling along at turtles pace. We ended up pretty much right in the middle of a massive ship parking lot off Kuala Lumpur – and it seemed to be rush hour. At one stage when Nico was trying to work out what direction one approaching ship was doing, he asked what colour the navigation light that could be seen was. Chuny took a glance behind the sail and said, “Both, red and green- this is not good.” We had to alter course quite a lot, came down so we past port to port safely then just as we had done that another horn blared at us from the other direction several miles off.

There was no real danger at all, but it felt a wee bit like we were on the inside of a giant steel pinball machine for a while, only we were the pinball and a carbon fibre one at that! By the time we actually past the initial ship it was stopped and anchored and had decided to take a better look at us so all of a sudden we were lit up by their massive flood lights, turning us into an impromptu billboard in the darkness. We felt a bit like a prisoner getting spotted escaping from jail. As we passed below them they yelled down at us if we would like some cold beer… ummm- what do you think??

Animal has been saying repeatedly for days now that he can’t wait to get to China. I keep on asking him what it is exactly he is looking forward to the most, the tropical beaches of Sanya, the interesting people, the culture, or the #46 chicken fried rice- he can never decide but cant wait to use the chopsticks.

This morning we are once again have our own race within a race with Abu Dhabi who are just a couple of hundred metres off our stern Will Oxley has been busy as always- he just came below and told me we sailed right by an island, which is not on the charts. Speaking of charts I noticed yesterday there was an area on the chart right by where we were sailing which said in big red bold letters ‘Explosives’, I wonder if the Indonesians are fishing again? We now have about 150 miles to go until we are in open water again. I think everyone is looking forward to that. The last big obstacle course to pass through before then is the shipping lanes of the Port of Singapore. That will be more like dodgems rather than pinball! That is if we get there, the breeze has just died again. The anchor and our ‘Anchor Master’ Trae are on standby…

Here’s a fact for you: The Port of Singapore is the worlds busiest port in terms of shipping tonnage- around 1.15 billion gross tonnes handled in a year. Again that’s a figure too big to comprehend, but might give some idea of the amount of ships we need to get through in the next day or so.

Early this Sunday afternoon (European time), night had just fallen offshore of Kuala Lumpur and there is likely to be a great deal of jockeying for position in a breeze which, according to the grib files, is set to be inexistent… Just twenty miles separate the city of Malacca (Malaysia) and the island of Rupat (Sumatra), and the tidal range measures over a metre, which causes hefty currents in this narrow passage. Indeed, it may well be that everything’s decided in this Melaka channel for this third leg: if one of the five crews manages to make good their escape over these next fifty or so fateful miles (Sanya having dropped too far back already), it’s very likely that they’ll have an open road to China. In fact, once this zone is devoured, the coastal landforms will no longer disturb the monsoon air flow and the long upwind climb won’t have as many surprises to offer as this nerve centre in the gulley.
24 hours ago, the Spanish had snatched control of the fleet thanks to a slight northerly separation, whilst Groupama 4 had made up ground on Camper. However, it was off George Town that everything took on a different tone. Indeed, late on Saturday night (local time), whilst Telefonica was amassing a lead of around thirty miles, Franck Cammas and his men got ahead of the Americans to reposition themselves at the centre of the strait when the New Zealanders opted for a route along the Malaysian coast, tailed by Abu Dhabi. Hoping to benefit from the thermal effects there, the latter two crews instead got stuck off the paddy fields of Bagan Datoh for nearly six hours, while Puma and Groupama 4 homed in on the leader at an average speed of over twelve knots. As night fell, the three boats formed a united triumvirate off the capital of Malaysia, with a lead of over thirty miles on the Camper-Abu Dhabi duo! Meantime, the Chinese boat opted for a route which was the exact opposite of that, sailing along the coast of Sumatra with a deficit of over 130 miles.

“The heat is exceptional, and there is no escaping it,” said Housty from his bunk this morning… I cannot describe the feeling on board at the moment. The word frustration doesn’t quite do it justice… Moose has even sacrificed his sacred bottle of diet coke that was hidden in day bag 7, to the sea in the hopes that some luck will come our way…

Today it’s the little things, cleaning up the boat, both inside and out, a few of the boys have jumped in the water with the hopes of cooling off as well as checking the foils. The water maker is in overdrive as we all struggle to stay hydrated. I think it’s safe to say there isn’t a soul on board who would rather be sailing upwind in 30+ knots right now.

The plan… Wind dependent of course… hook in to a puff that takes in the Singapore straights, and through without parking up, rounding the corner to find 30k on the nose 1000nm to Sanya…
Time will only tell… signing off for now… I can only take my daily sauna treatment, which consists of sitting up in the bow, next to a charging generator, for so long…