Saturday, 24 January 2009

VOR: Coral reefs and bad weather ahead for PUMA

Ken Read at the wheel during Leg 4. Image copyright Rick Deppe/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Kate Fairclough

The PUMA team, led by Skipper Ken Read (USA) are currently leading Leg Four of the epic Volvo Ocean Race from Singapore to Qingdao, China. Four days into what has been described by the sailors as ‘likely to be the toughest leg in the history of the race’, the seven boat fleet are preparing themselves for extremely bad weather in the Straits of Luzon this Friday and Saturday, where winds of up to 50 knots and very lumpy seas are expected.

As long-range forecasts for this leg have predicted heavy weather sailing conditions for some time, the Race Committee chose to add an extra ‘weather waypoint’ to this leg, to keep PUMA and her competitors to the eastern side of the South China Sea. Forcing the boats to pass close to the Philippines was deemed to be the safest course of action, and it is likely that the teams will choose to hug the coastline of Luzon, which will give the boats shelter from the expected strong northerly winds.

In addition to the difficult sailing conditions the fleet will encounter, navigation in this region of Asia is notoriously difficult. There are vast areas of uncharted coral reefs, rocks and hundreds of tiny atolls to negotiate, and the charts used by PUMA navigator Andrew Cape (AUS) are far from accurate.

PUMA Ocean Racing skipper Ken Read (USA) commented: “Approaching the North Lucoma Shoals the water depth goes from 1000 metres to three metres. We had three charts of these shoals and one said we could go through the middle, one said maybe and one said no way. We chose the no way. And the ‘good’ news is there are about a thousand of these shoals all over the South China Sea. The accuracy of the charts is absolutely in question and supposedly there are a lot of reefs that are unmarked out here. As if there wasn't enough on this leg to make my stomach turn... we have many challenges ahead.”

The next few days will be physically as well as mentally exhausting for the crew of PUMA’s il mostro. The team will not only face harsh sailing conditions but have tough tactical decisions to make to ensure they stay ahead of the fleet.

PUMA Ocean Racing

Volvo Ocean Race

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