Photo: Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

Further glory for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Ian Walker and crew lead from start to finish at the Volvo Ocean Race Cape Town in-port

Saturday November 15th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: South Africa

Ian Walker and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing came out on top to win in the Volvo Ocean Race's Cape Town in-port race, less than a week after arriving in South Africa as winners of the round the world race's opening leg from Alicante.

The downwind start, not far off the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, made the approach to the line more challenging than usual. The two boats closest to the line at the gun were Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Vestas Wind, who started off opposite ends and went opposite ways.

The fleet was split from the start in challenging conditions in Table Bay, with winds jumping dramatically between 12 and 30 knots from the south, fairly flat water and sunshine, although rain clouds threatened throughout. Abu Dhabi hooked into the strongest breeze first, while Vestas and the boats on their side of the track were left behind.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing gybed on to port gained a favourable left hand shift and went to lead the 8 mile long race throughout. The UAE flagged VO65 crossed the line just over a minute ahead of second placed Team Brunel

"Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is on a roll," commented Walker. "That’s our second win in a row. We seem to like Cape Town and it likes us and now we just have to hope that the same happens in Abu Dhabi.

"The key was the start. There was a massive shift and we managed to get on to port and made the best start and then led the race all the way around. It wasn’t easy to lead because it was so shifty. Fortunately our crew work is so good that it keeps dragging us through.

On board Team Brunel today, skipper Bouwe Bekking had once again handed over the wheel to Laurent Pagès, allowing him to focus on his preferred role of tactician. The Dutch team began the race in third place and at the first gate rounding opted for the right hand side of the course seeking better pressure. However, one of the many sizeable wind shifts consequently forced the entire fleet to the left-hand side. Nonethless Team Brunel maintained third. The Dutch boat momentarily lost steerage in a strong gust of wind, but her crew soon had her back under control. 

In the final run to the finish, Team Brunel chose the centre of the course, with Team SCA to their right and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on the left. This proved the right choice and enabled Team Brunel to steal second place from Team SCA.

"It was a strange race today," concluded Bekking. "The wind unexpectedly shifted more than 70° and we had wind speeds of between 5 and 25 knots. We got off to a really good start, but a wind shift meant that we were just slightly too late with our gennaker. And that's how Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was able to take the lead. It was a good call to immediately start gybing, after which it was a question of consolidating and not doing anything stupid. We came close to catching Abu Dhabi at the end, but another wind shift spoilt that for us. It was good teamwork that ensured we came in second."

A problem with a gennaker failing to unfurl cleanly scuppered the efforts of Team SCA in fending off Brunel. But it was a good effort by the women's team to claim its first podium result.

Skipper Sam Davies commented: “We had a reasonable start, not perfect. We didn’t do everything perfectly, but at the same time we didn’t make any huge mistakes. It felt like we did more right than wrong. But when you’re racing in conditions with anything from 7 to 30 knots, its not easy, you feel like you’ve always got the wrong sail up and you’re making compromises.

"Today was a hard day for everyone onboard, from Stacey and the girls on the bow trying to wrestle the sails down, to Sally trying to find the wind in the right place and the trimmers trying to keep up with the wind changing all the time, it was just full on. We saw that making a small mistake can mean you give a lot away so we learnt a lot today.

“I think it is a great result for the girls, we have been giving some importance to the InPort race because it’s always a good way for the crew to gain more confidence. It is a very happy day for us to be on the podium and the girls should be pleased with this result. For us, we really wanted to just keep a good momentum for this stopover before the very tough leg ahead. It's now time to switch the focus to offshore mode”.

Team Alvimedica placed 6th. The team’s on board reporter, Amory Ross said of the race: “That was a whole Volvo Ocean Race leg, all rolled into an hour’s racing.” Skipper Charlie Enright agreed: “We had enough sail changes, wind shifts, velocity changes, there was a lot going on.”

For all that, the outcome of the race was pretty much decided within the first minute of the race. Unfortunately Alvimedica went the wrong side down the first leg downwind, and there was little that they could do as they saw boats on the far side of the course roll away from them in better breeze.

Enright was frustrated but philosophical about their choice at the start. “We were monitoring the wind before the start, talking to the weather team. It looked to us that the wind was coming off the beach all day. Occasionally those righties [right-hand windshifts] would wrap around the mountain, but the one that we saw at the start was the biggest we saw all day. It went light and right, which was not really the trend prior to that. You could see that a lot of people wanted to do the same as us and bailed at the last second. I thought, is it a persistent wind shift, or is it oscillating? We consciously decided to hit the beach, so did two others boats, and there was no real passing after that. The race was decided at the start, and that's rare for a race that had so much going on.”

The Team Alvimedica crew sailed a solid race from then onwards, although at one point a rip opened up in the back of their J1 headsail during a hoist. “It happened when we were hoisting a Code sail,” said Enright. “The headfurler clipped the leech and took a chunk out of it. We got the sail out of the sky, got a J2 [smaller sail] up, which was unfortunate because the J1 was probably the right sail for most of the day.”

While 6th place was disappointing for Enright, there’s probably not too much to be gained from over-analyzing the day. “Unfortunately in situations like that, you can't really take a bunch away from it. The other side of the course paid on the other two laps, so it seemed to be the trend of the day, but it wasn't when we started.”

After two In-Port Races, the overall In Port standings put Abu Dhabi in the lead, with Brunel 2nd and Team Alvimedica in 3rd place.

The teams gets back on the water tomorrow to take part in the Pro-Am races on Table Bay, prior to Wednesday's start of Leg 2 up through the Indian Ocean to Abu Dhabi.

Results Cape town In-Port Race:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - 15:06:57 -1pt
2. Team Brunel (NED) 15:08:00 - 2pts
3. Team SCA (SWE) 15:09:04 - 3pts
4. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN) 15:09:22 - 4pts
5. Team Vestas Wind (DEN) 15:11:25 - 5pts
6. Team Alvimedica (USA/TUR) 15:16:14 - 6pts
7. MAPFRE (ESP) 15:18:32 - 7pts

Photos by Ainhoa Sanchez/Charlie Shoemaker - Volvo Ocean Race



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