Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing blazed a comeback trail after speeding around the Cape Town inshore course and leading the fleet on the Leg 2 charge to their home base at Abu Dhabi just days after replacing the boat’s broken mast.
After a slow motion start with a light breeze in the shadow of Table Mountain, Abu Dhabi gained pace and led to the top mark, followed by Groupama sailing team, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, Team Sanya and Team Telefónica, who stalled on the start line.
But as the westerly wind eased to five knots and the fleet made their way around the 11-mile inshore course Ian Walker’s team extended their lead at the Cape Town leaving mark.
Hundreds of spectators, fans, friends and families gathered at the Cape Town Race Village to give the 66 sailors warm, energetic and at times tearful farewells.
Ken Read’s wife Kathy said always wears sunglasses on departure days so the fans can’t see her tears. “It gets no better,” she said.
In a touching moment during the departure ceremony Read insisted that the race’s first Emirati sailor Adil Khalid walk side by side with him down to the dock as they prepared to depart on the leg to Abu Dhabi, telling him: “This is your moment.”
Telefónica supporters donned team colours and loudly blared their vuvuzelas in vocal support of the race leaders. Team Telefónica extended her lead by winning Saturday’s V&A Waterfront In-Port Race, scoring six points to take their overall score to 37.
Skipper Iker Martínez said his team had a solid strategy and would try their best to fend off the challengers. Hot on their heels are CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, intent on winning Leg 2 and stealing the lead. Also close behind are Groupama, with an excited Franck Cammas keen to “get back to ocean racing,”.
A defiant Ken Read has also set out his hopes of PUMA becoming the first team to win the Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race without completing all the legs, having retired from Leg 1 with a broken mast.
Team Sanya’s skipper Mike Sanderson said he was just happy to have his boat back in one piece and to be joining Leg 2 after a miraculous repair effort.
Sanderson said following heart breaking results of Leg 1, when his team were back onshore within 24-hours that it was good to get going. “Hopefully this time it’s for real,” he added.
As the team songs faded out across the race village and the departure ceremony drew to a close, the focus soon turned to the race course, where hundreds of spectators had gathered on boats scattered across Table Bay.
By the start time, 1300 UTC, the morning’s rain had passed, with a sunny blue sky creating a picture perfect day, while a westerly breeze created dream conditions to charge up the fleet in the close-quarter inshore combat.
The fleet can expect yet another brutal leg start opening night, with the wind tipped to tend south as they make the 35-mile trek to the Cape of Good Hope.
Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said teams could expect the first night to be a good test for the three yachts ousted from Leg 1 with damage: Abu Dhabi, PUMA and Sanya.
“Twenty-five to 30 knots coupled with a three to four metre sea is going to be a good test for the new rigs and bow,’’ Infante said.
Leg 2 sees the fleet head out from Cape Town and they will eventually arrive at Abu Dhabi around New Year’s Day. Because of the threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean the boats will be shipped from an undisclosed Safe Haven Port through the worst affected area before completing the leg with a sprint into Abu Dhabi.
Cape Town leaving mark times:
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: 39.26
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand: +1.32
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG: +2.00
Groupama sailing team: +2.28
Team Sanya: +3.35
Team Telefónica: +4.14