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Camper and Telefonica lead way in slog to Sanya


Imagine an island about the size of an Irish province set down in a blue sea just south of the tropic of Cancer and you begin to get a picture of Hainan, off the south coast of China.

And at the very southern tip of Hainan -- the end of the sky and the ocean, as they call it out there -- is the vibrant city of Sanya.

Time was when people in trouble with the big cheeses up in Beijing were exiled to Sanya until the utter isolation softened their cough. Yet today, it's one of the world's fastest growing tourist destinations. Doubtless it will eventually acquire some of the less attractive features of mass travel but for now it's a choice destination, a place on an upward curve.

In January, its climate is usually sweet. The boats in the Volvo Ocean Race certainly hope that's the case this year, for this week they've been sweating their way northeastward across the vast Bay of Bengal.

They then swing southward through the Malacca Straits and even deeper into the tropics but, after rounding the southernmost point of Malaysia, it's north-northeast to cooler conditions past Vietnam and on to the finish of Leg 3 at Sanya.

There's a feeling that the restart from the 'safe port' of Male in the Maldive Islands 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka sees the race reborn.

Safely astern now are the distractions of shipping the boats from the Maldives around the piracy threats of Somalia after the first part of Leg 2 from Capetown.

The official Abu Dhabi stopover successfully completed, they were carted back to the Maldives, and on Sunday the fleet got away from a makeshift starting line to get back to proper offshore racing in the 3,000-mile challenge to China.

Until Sunday, there'd been something of a wing and a prayer about it all. Leg 1 from Alicante had been a demolition derby, with three damaged boats arriving in Cape Town by ship. Kenny Read and the Puma team had the biggest problems, having been shipped in mastless from Tristan da Cunha.

But since then they've been getting back in the hunt, and they held the early lead from the Maldives. Closing towards the Straits yesterday, it was neck and neck with Camper (Chris Nicholson) and overall leader Telefonica (Iker Martinez), with the Irish-Chinese boat Sanya in the trailing group.

Up in Sanya itself, meanwhile, the Volvo Village opens next Saturday and there'll be a fortnight of in-port action.

Elsewhere, the Olympic Classes Regatta off Miami has seen seven Irish sailors in action but, as they're among a total of 532 matelots from 44 nations, it's good going that they're in the frame at all in a major event, which concludes today.

The largest class is the Lasers with 78 boats, and non-carded Olympic hopeful James Espey is having a gallant campaign, hovering on the edge of getting into the top 10.

Annalise Murphy has already secured Olympic selection, but Miami is a must-show and her scoreline has included a first.

Star Class selection Peter O'Leary and David Burrows had a woolly start, but things have firmed up satisfactorily as the week progressed, while Paralympic crew John Twomey, Anthony Hegarty and Ian Costello are halfway up the rankings of the 11 boats in the Sonar Class.

Irish Independent