Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing looking forward to stronger winds on Leg 4 of Volvo Ocean Race to New Zealand
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – 7 February, 2015: The skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) – Abu Dhabi’s entry into the 2014-15 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) - is relishing the prospect of windier, conditions for the fourth leg of the race, which starts on Sunday from Sanya in China and takes the teams back across the equator to Auckland, New Zealand.
Up to now, ADOR’s strategy of avoiding risky moves and staying close to its rivals has delivered a hat-trick of podium finishes in the first three legs, leaving the team - led by British double Olympic medallist Ian Walker - in second place in the overall standings, a single point behind leader Dongfeng Race Team. The Chinese entry beat the Abu Dhabi team into second place on a predominantly light air third leg, but Walker is hoping that a forecast of strong headwinds for the opening few days of Leg 4 might suit his crew better.
“Leg 4 should be more upwind and generally windier,” Walker said. “The opening stretch from Sanya to the Luzon Strait at the top of the Philippines could be windy and bumpy – conditions we haven’t seen very much of so far. The final week of Leg 3 produced similar conditions and we felt we had Azzam set up to go fast.”
Re-crossing the Equator into the southern hemisphere means another encounter with the Doldrums – a persistent but unpredictable band of fickle winds that can ensnare a yacht for hours or even days if approached at the wrong place and time.
According to ADOR navigator Simon Fisher, decisions made immediately after negotiating the Luzon Strait could hugely affect when and where a team can make its Doldrums crossing.
“After Luzon, we have a choice to make how far we dive south as opposed to holding on to the east,” Fisher said. “It largely depends on whether the trade winds have set in or not. The temptation is to head south as quickly as possible, but that isn’t always right and could cause you problems when you encounter the Doldrums.
“In the last race the fleet had to push aggressively east and even north east to find the trade winds and set up for a fast Doldrums crossing. It shouldn’t come to that this time but with everyone going such similar speeds it will be tricky working out when and where to go south.”
After the equator, the Azzam crew will pass to the east of the Solomon Islands, and skirt the French island of New Caledonia on its way south to New Zealand. However, they could also have to deal with storm conditions as they race, as UAE helmsman and trimmer Adil Khalid explained.
“We will hopefully be into south easterly trade winds by then,” he said “However, at that time of year there is the highest risk of tropical activity. There are two storm systems rolling around down there now which will be gone by the time we get there, but you just don’t know what else might develop – it’s an area where you really need to have your wits about you.”
An added incentive for ADOR to reach the finish line first is the presence onboard of Kiwi boat captain Daryl Wislang, who has more than just the most obvious reason for wanting to complete the leg as quickly as possible.
Wislang, who is competing in his fourth VOR, says he wants nothing more than for Azzam to be first into Auckland – partly to score maximum points for the Abu Dhabi team, but also so that he can be reunited as quickly as possible with his wife Jess and their baby daughter Pearl, who was born shortly before this edition of the race around the world began.
“As far as I’m concerned, the quicker we get there, the sooner I can see my girls,” said Wislang. “I have been at sea for a large percentage of Pearl’s first year and I don’t want to miss a second more than I have to.”
Despite carrying a one-point deficit to Dongfeng into the fourth leg, Walker said he planned to stick to the same strategy that has served the team so well since the start.
“Our goal remains the same: a top three result on this leg is what we are shooting for,” Walker said. “At this stage in the race, it’s about avoiding disasters rather than taking risks.”
ADOR’s Leg 4 prospects have been boosted by the return of Australian helmsman and trimmer Phil Harmer who re-joined the line-up for Azzam’s second place in the Sanya In-Port Race after missing Leg 3 due to illness and a wrist injury.
Welcoming Harmer back, Walker said although the Azzam crew had learned some crucial speed lessons on the way to Sanya, they would need to be at full strength to deal with a rapidly improving fleet on the upcoming leg. “Things are getting tighter and tighter in terms of performance as everyone learns what makes these boats go fast. We felt we tapped into some new speed on the last leg but so will the other teams. There is going to be very little difference across the fleet on the way to Auckland.”
The start of Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland is scheduled for 1400 local time in China (1000 in Abu Dhabi) when the fleet will complete a 40-minute inshore section before rounding the leaving marker and heading for New Zealand. Taking the much-coveted celebrity jump-off spot on Azzam will be China’s number one-ranked professional golfer Lianwei Zhang.