PUMA leads fleet on Leg 6 to Miami as Sanya carrys out repairs in Savannah.
Team Sanya, who pulled out of Leg 5 with boat damage, will rejoin the fleet in Miami after carrying out repairs in Savannah.
The battle for overall victory in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 intensified on Sunday with the teams resuming their bids for supremacy as the sixth of nine legs got underway from Itajaí, Brazil, with PUMA at the front of the pack.
Just 32 points separate the top four teams as the fleet set sail for Miami — and with 30 points up for grabs for a leg win, the race is still wide open.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG enjoyed the psychological advantage of leading the fleet around the short inshore course and out into the Atlantic but with 4,800 miles to sail, any of the five teams racing in Leg 6 could see victory come their way.
A win in Saturday's DHL In-Port Race Itajaí saw Groupama sailing team close the gap to overall frontrunners Team Telefónica to just 16 points, while CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand’s second-place finish moved them to within 25 points of the leaders.
PUMA, just seven points behind CAMPER in fourth overall and with the incentive of racing to their home country, are also in the hunt after notching up yet another podium result in yesterday’s inshore battle.
Riding on the high of winning Leg 5, PUMA skipper Ken Read said his crew were ready to get back to the race course.
“I don’t want to jinx the fleet but it looks like we could have some really nice sailing,” Read said. “It’s potentially the first leg of this race that we can say that.
“It looks like we might get some downwind sailing out of Itajaí, we might get some nice trade wind sailing, and maybe some consistent wave patterns.
“Everyone’s really psyched to go do some nice sailing.”
Groupama skipper Franck Cammas, who has already tasted offshore victory in Leg 4, said he had high hopes for success in Leg 6.
“We can enjoy this leg a lot — it has a lot of good conditions, a lot of reaching conditions,” he said. “It’s good for the crew, it’s good for the boat. I think we can manage our Volvo Open 70 very well in these conditions.”
Despite a disappointing result in the DHL In-Port Race Itajaí, Iker Martínez’s Telefónica are the form team offshore with three leg wins from five.
“I hope this is going to be another good leg for us,” Martínez said. “It looks like it’s going to be interesting from beginning to end so we’ll just have to see what the next few weeks hold.
“I’m very confident. The boat is even better than it was in New Zealand. We can’t ask for more.”
The Leg 6 start also saw a welcome return to offshore racing for Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who had to ship their yacht to Itajaí after it was damaged in the Southern Ocean.
The boat only arrived in Brazil on Thursday and the team’s shore crew worked round the clock to give Walker’s men a chance to compete for their first offshore leg win.
“Everything we know about is fully under control, so let’s hope there aren’t any things we don’t know about,” Walker said.
Leg 6 is littered with challenges including tropical weather systems, strong currents, sweltering heat and the dreaded Doldrums.
The first few days of the race could be crucial as the crews negotiate a potentially violent low pressure system lying in wait in the South Brazil Bight.
From there on in the sailing should mostly be downwind in moderate conditions — although the teams will always be at risk from South Atlantic squalls.
The crews must also take on the Doldrums, a constantly-moving area of low pressure found a few hundred miles either side of the Equator, notorious for being one of the toughest regions on the planet to sail through.
Once into the northern hemisphere they will face tough tactical decisions, trading off distance for speed in the sprint past the Caribbean to the finish line.
The boats are expected to arrive in Miami around May 6.
SOURCE: Volvo Ocean Race & WOS Team