Alicante to Cape Town: The Volvo Ocean Race begins


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The Independent Online

West is best has long been the mantra of those racing south down the Atlantic and it is the two boats furthest west when attacking the booby trap of the Doldrums on the first leg of the Volvo round the world race from Alicante to Cape Town that were celebrating conventional wisdom with what could be a decisive break yesterday.

British double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi had been neck and neck with Dutch maestro Bouwe Bekking’s Brunel ever since they seven-strong fleet of 65-footers had left the Mediterranean and the lead switched across all seven like a pass the parcel party.

But, with British navigator Simon Fisher on Abu Dhabi and Lymington-based opposite number Australian Andrew Cape on Brunel, they had fought hard for the westerly option and their reward was a 95--mile jump on those further east as they picked up the trade winds which should power them south around the turning mark of Fernando da Noronha, off the coast of Brazil.

They still have just over half the 6,487 nautical miles to complete the opening leg but after twelve days may have made this a two-boat duel to the finish, expected in the first week of November. And Walker had a seven-mile lead on Bekking. That could prove very slim as they both have to negotiate the south Atlantic high pressure zone but it leaves their rivals with a lot of catching up to do.

Airbus, the Toulouse-based aircraft manufacturer and America’s Cup holders Oracle Team USA have announced a technology partnership for the 2017 35th America’s Cup. It allows Oracle, backed by computer software boss Larry Ellison, to share expertise in aerodynamics, instrumentation and simulation, composites, structures, hydraulics and data analysis.

“This is a completely new endeavour for us,” said Fabrice Brégier, Airbus president and ceo. “By taking on an extreme technology and sports project of this magnitude we stretch our competencies and further boost our agility. There are many similarities between the America’s Cup yacht and our aircraft design.”

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said the partnership would allow his team to benefit from the skill-set of a leading engineering group with experience working on the cutting-edge of technology.

“The America’s Cup is a boat race, but the design technology and engineering are very often the winning factor,” Spithill said. “The new America’s Cup boats are lighter and faster. They will be powered by a wing and will fly above the water on foils. They’re as much like airplanes as they are like traditional boats, so I know we’ll have a lot to learn from the experience the engineers at Airbus bring to the project.”

British challenger Ben Ainslie has been testing a much modified foiling 45-footer in the Solent, but design rules for a warm-up series scheduled to start in Portsmouth next June have yet to be announced, as has the America’s Cup World Series 2015 regatta programme.

There had been earlier speculation that Airbus would be one of three major sponsors for the Team France challenge, led by Franck Cammas, Michel Desjoyeaux, who is on the Spanish entry in the Volvo Race, and Olivier de Kersauson. But the French team has been struggling to put together the £50m. sponsorship support needed to take part in the event scheduled for 2017, with San Diego edging ahead in the choice of venue.

The other, Bermuda, laid on some brisk winds for the second day of the Argo Gold Cup, the sixth of seven events in the Alpari World Match Racing Championship where four-times title holder Ian Williams and GAC Pindar were leading their group despite being docked half a point for a collision with Italian rival Francesco Bruni’s Luna Rossa.