Abu Dhabi led the fleet out of Miami and on towards a tropical storm that will be a deciding force in the opening 48 hours of the crucial Leg 7 race to Lisbon, Portugal.
It was a hot and slow start for the six-boat fleet. Telefónica, PUMA and Abu Dhabi managed to escape the start line with the most pace, with Ian Walker’s Emirati team continuing their inshore domination in Miami and rounding the top mark first.
As the southeast wind eased from about eight to five knots the teams sent their bowmen up the masts in a desperate search for any advantageous breeze to fill their massive code zeros.
A decisive moment in the inshore course came during the third, when Abu Dhabi caught a massive advantage by reaching the Gulf Steam first, which accelerated their yacht Azzam’s speed from five to 10 knots instantly.
Despite a light start to the 3,590 nautical mile transatlantic leg, gale force winds with gusts in excess of 45 knots await the fleet off shore, where Tropical Storm Alberto is lying in wait off the east coast of the United States.
Volvo Ocean Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said the fleet faced a tricky first few hours of the race in light, unstable winds while using the Gulf Stream’s strong current to propel them north.
“There will be a lot of cloud activity so the teams will have use them cleverly while maximising the effects of the Gulf Stream,” he said.
Every team is in hot pursuit of the maximum 30 points, which could prove vital as just 14 points separate the top four teams on the overall leaderboard with three legs remaining.
Telefónica still lead with 165 points but Groupama are snapping at their heels just seven points behind on 158, while CAMPER with 152 and current form team PUMA on 151.
It was a bittersweet departure for the in-form team PUMA as they left their home country. Skipper Ken Read said he had joked with his wife this morning that the stopover had been so hectic, that he was looking forward to the race starting so he could catch up on sleep.
“It’s overwhelming but incredibly appreciated,’’ he said. “It is sad to leave, but at the same time we have a job to do and we have to go and do it.”
Read reckons the first 24 to 48 hours of racing will prove critical, and set up a scenario where the early leaders could escape.
“We’re going to have south easterlies today and a little transition to get to the west and north westerlies around that little low up there,” he said. “I think the first person through that transition will have a really great jump, so yeah, this first 24, 48 hours are really critical I think in this leg.”
In fifth place overall and fresh from winning Saturday’s PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, Abu Dhabi are in the hunt for an offshore victory. Navigator Jules Salter said he was hopeful the storm front would work as a slingshot for his team.
“In some ways it’s quite good – it’s giving us some downwind conditions once we get up past Cape Canaveral and up towards Cape Hatteras so we’re kind of cutting the corner and probably sailing a more direct route that we would have done if the storm wasn’t there.
“It’s quite light for the first part of the forecast so it will be about finding wind in the first 48 hours. The closer we can get to it the better – it will give us a bit of a catapult out of the way.”
Leg 7 is expected to take around 11 days to complete.