At just 550 miles long it may be the shortest of all the offshore tests but Leg 9 still has the potential to present race-threatening conditions for the teams.
The sprint from Lorient in northwest France to Galway on the west coast of Ireland should take less than 48 hours to complete but as this race has seen so many times during its 39,000-mile odyssey, fortunes can easily be reversed in a matter of hours.
The Celtic Sea, the stretch of water that lies between the Volvo Ocean Race fleet and the overall finish line, is notorious for strong winds and big seas, churned up by the Celtic continental shelf.
On leaving Lorient, the fleet will first sail south in 15-18 knot westerlies, leaving Ile de Groix and Belle Ile, small islands in the Bay of Biscay, to starboard before charging north west in 25-30 knot SSW breeze towards the next waypoint -- Fastnet Rock.
The iconic landmark, renowned among sailors, is the most southerly point of Ireland, and must be left to port.
The biennial Fastnet Race, from the Isle of Wight in the UK, round Fastnet Rock and back to Plymouth, has on many occasions seen boats hit by ferocious weather in the Celtic Sea.
In 1979 a severe storm swept through the fleet resulting in the deaths of 15 sailors, while in 1985 Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon was one of five who spent 20 minutes trapped under the hull of his capsized yacht Drum, shortly before he competed with the yacht in the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Most recently in the 2011 race, won by Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the 100ft superyacht Rambler, one of the fastest raceboats in the world, capsized off Fastnet Rock.
The fleet should reach Fastnet Rock late morning on Monday, and once round it will likely face strong westerly breeze and huge seas as they pass Blasket Island on the south-west tip of Ireland.
From there it’s a straight run up to the Aran Islands, a set of three islands marking the entrance to Galway bay that boast 200-metre tall cliffs, making the most of the strong currents that accelerate round the many headlands.
Eiragh lighthouse, at the western end of the Aran Islands, must be left to starboard before the fleet turn east and head for the finish line in Galway Bay.
As the scoreboard stands now, Groupama have 225 points and a 25-point lead at the head of the standings over PUMA on 200, with CAMPER just four points further behind in third.
A nightmare for Telefónica on Leg 8, in which they finished fifth after suffering rudder damage, plus a fourth-place finish in the Bretagne In-Port Race, puts them in fourth overall with 194 points. Abu Dhabi have 124 points while Team Sanya have 40.
- Leg 9 - Day 1 Shortest leg could present major difficulties
- Leg 8 - Day 1 High stakes, rough ride for crucial Leg 8 sprint
- Leg 7 - Day 2 The Gulf Stream Superhighway
- Leg 7 - Day 1 Plenty of wind, plenty of waves, plenty of action
- Leg 6 - Day 10 Be smart, be lucky
- Leg 6 - Day 6 Fleet ‘go with the flow’ on Leg 6
- Leg 6 - Day 1 Tropical weather minefield awaits fleet on Leg 6
- Leg 5 - Day 1 Record runs await as fleet prepares for…
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