Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing launched an 11th hour comeback in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race to take their tally of in-shore successes to three, while Groupama scored a strong second to pile the pressure on overall race leaders Telefónica.
Ian Walker’s crew were rewarded for sailing a near-perfect race on Saturday when they snatched the lead from Groupama on the penultimate leg and went on to seal a dramatic victory.
Although they were pipped at the post, Groupama’s result moves them to within just seven points of Telefónica, who had yet more in-port disappointment when a penalty for touching one of the turning marks relegated them to last place.
In a thrilling finale, PUMA came from behind to rocket past CAMPER into third just metres from the finish line.
It was a fourth successive podium finish in the in-shore series for Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crew, and it brought them to within a point of third-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand on the overall scoreboard.
Team Sanya, the only team not racing in a new generation boat, were unlucky not to finish higher up the leaderboard, having to settle for fifth after a brave battle with their rivals.
“It feels great,” said a jubilant Abu Dhabi skipper Walker moments after crossing the finish line.
“We’ve had a tough time of it. We had no time at all to prepare for the last in-port race and we made a special point of having two full days’ training here. We wanted to show the world that Abu Dhabi hasn’t given up. We’re a good team, we’re determined, and it feels great to win a race.”
With the Volvo Ocean Race entering a critical stage with just three offshore legs and three in-port races left, just 14 points split the top four boats.
Telefónica still lead with 165 points but snapping at their heels are Groupama on 158, while CAMPER and PUMA are dangerously close on 152 and 151 respectively, bolstered by the results of the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race.
In a nail-biting contest peppered with position changes, Abu Dhabi capitalised on a strong start along with Sanya but it was Telefónica who led round the first mark, showing off their blistering speed on Leg 1.
The action couldn’t have been any more intense with Abu Dhabi and Groupama overhauling Telefónica on Leg 2. Meanwhile, after paying the price for heading offshore, CAMPER and PUMA were left desperately chasing the frontrunners.
While the front two stretched their lead, a fierce battle for third developed, climaxing on Leg 6 with Telefónica hitting the mark and the rest of the fleet piling in behind.
Telefónica were penalised by the on-the-water umpires, adding to their in-port misery and ending their hopes of consolidating their overall lead.
Sniffing a chance to pick up crucial points, PUMA, CAMPER and Sanya put pedal to metal and launched an extraordinary comeback that brought them back in touch with then leaders Groupama and second-placed Abu Dhabi with just a few legs left.
Abu Dhabi’s defining moment came when they hoisted a bigger sail than their French rivals, making the most of the smallest of speed advantages to pass Groupama despite having to dodge a spectator boat.
With the breeze fading, race officials chose to shorten the course and Abu Dhabi hung on to claim the win, all the more sweet due to the fact that just a few weeks ago their stricken boat Azzam was on a container ship en route to Brazil.
The sailors and shore crews are now turning their sights on the final preparations for 3,580 nautical mile Leg 7 from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal, starting on Sunday at 1700 UTC (1300 local time).
PORTMIAMI In-Port Race results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 74:09
2. Groupama sailing team, +00:33
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, +02:02
4. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, +02:11
5. Team Sanya, +2:35
6. Team Telefónica, +6:28
A trough of low pressure blocking the fleet’s path brought light winds on Friday and a tactical split in the trio at the front. Leaders PUMA have stuck doggedly to their north easterly course, while CAMPER and Telefónica gybed to the west in search of stronger winds closer to the Caribbean Islands.
By 1200 UTC today Team Telefónica had resumed a northerly track, putting pressure on CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who must decide to follow suit or press on with a higher risk westerly strategy.
With up to 30 hours of slow sailing likely before the leaders break through into steadier winds, the pressure is well and truly on for the skippers and navigators on the top three boats.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG navigator Tom Addis said leading into such a scenario was always tricky as it raised the threat of being caught by the boats behind, but was nevertheless confident in the short term strategy.
“A front has come through to the north and disturbed the trade winds so we’ve all compressed again,” Addis said. “It is unfortunate for us but it’s just how it goes.
“It’s hard to say when the breeze will pick up again. We’ve still got about 10 knots of breeze but it’s going to be a good day and a half before we’re into decent breeze again.
“When the wind goes light and you compress, especially for a good solid day, anything can happen. If someone gets a squall and picks up some wind for a few hours that could easily turn the fleet inside out.
“That makes things more tense on board, no question.”
Addis said PUMA’s current plan was to skirt around the eastern side of the Caribbean to avoid the additional threat of wind shadows in the lee of the island chain.
“The next 1,000 miles is going to be pretty light and tricky and it’s going to be ‘heart in the mouth’ stuff for the majority of the rest of the leg,” he said.
“We think we’ve got a solid plan and most likely we’ll go round the outside of the Caribbean islands,” he said. “Through the Caribbean there’s plenty of water but it’s fraught with lees.
“Those islands are very tall and they create big wind shadows so you’ve got to be very careful going through them.”
On second placed CAMPER, Media Crew Member Hamish Hooper said the mood was equally tense with skipper Chris Nicholson and navigator Will Oxley spending long hours together at the navigation station, deliberating on the best plan.
“It is certain to be a nerve-wracking few days for sure,” Hooper said.
“It has been said from the start that this last 1,000 miles will be where the leg is won and lost, and it’s looking about as tricky as tricky can be, with light fickle breezes throughout.
“It’s a maze. One boat will come out looking famous and it could be one of any of the five boats in the fleet.
“Abu Dhabi and Groupama who are still 100 miles behind are still right in this leg and in fact they are in the sometimes enviable position of having nothing to lose, so able to throw caution to the wind and take a gamble.”
Telefónica navigator Andrew Cape described the final push to the finish as “a bit touch and go”.
“There’s going to be a lot of changes, put it that way,” Cape added. “It’s going to be a tricky one. There’s going to be opportunities both ways but certainly the team that gets it right will be the winner.”
Cape said he was happy with the Spanish team’s positioning at this point but said there would be plenty of other key decisions to agonise over before the finish.
“We’re where we wanted to be, but this is the very first stage of about 25 that we need to get right,” he said.
At 1300 UTC PUMA still led the fleet, from CAMPER in second, Team Telefónica in third, Groupama sailing team in fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth.
Latest estimates show the leading boats arriving in Miami on or around midday on May 9.
PUMA held firm in the face of a relentless attack from Telefónica to clinch an epic Leg 5 victory on Friday, crossing the finish line in Itajaí, Brazil with a winning margin of just 12 minutes after the Spanish team had threatened to complete one of the great sporting comebacks.
After more then 7,500 nautical miles of racing from Auckland, starting with a first-night battering as bad as any in the race’s history and on through brutal conditions in the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, PUMA’s Mar Mostro finished in brilliant sunshine at 19:09:51 UTC.
Telefónica, who had been a constant threat to them, followed her in at 19:22:29 UTC for a second place that strengthens their position as overall leaders with five of nine offshore legs now complete.
Both boats were roared home by dozens of spectator boats and thousands of fans lining every possible viewing position on the way in.
It was an extraordinary finish to the battle for first place in a leg that saw five of the six boats forced to stop for repairs.
Telefónica were 400 nm behind the leaders when they resumed racing following a pit stop to work on structural damage to their boat. They quickly began to reduce that gap and when Groupama sailing team were forced out following a dismasting they were suddenly in a two-way battle for first.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG score 30 points for their win, taking their total to 113 points. It means they are just 34 points behind overall leaders Team Telefónica, despite having been forced to retire from Leg 1 because of a broken mast.
Groupama will reduce the Telefónica lead to 20 points if they complete the leg in third place under jury rig, as planned.
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, currently carrying out repairs in Puerto Montt in Chile, can get back to within 28 points if they complete the leg in fourth.
As it became clear that PUMA were doing enough to hold off Telefónica, the team’s Media Crew Member Amory Ross handed out chocolate treats to the crew, before skipper Ken Read took back the helm to take his team over the finish line.
“We’ve never seen such an amazing welcome,” said an overwhelmed looking Read, who took time to sympathise with his five rivals and their problems over the course of the leg.
“I’ve never done such a tough offshore leg in my life. It’s been pretty intense. Our hearts go out to the crews who have suffered damage. We know what that’s like and it’s even worse when it’s in a place like the Southern Ocean.”
Telefónica had been written off after suspending racing for 17 hours for structural repairs inside the Cabo de Hornos National Park on March 31. The team resumed racing at 2133 that same day, more than 400 nm behind the leaders.
Nevertheless, a powerful South Atlantic front that rose from the south propelled Telefónica to within striking range of PUMA within days. Anxiety levels were rising on board PUMA, even after Groupama’s dismasting on April 4, but Read’s men were able to steel their nerves in a long match-race to the finish line for their first leg victory in this edition.
PUMA have had a steady rise since the devastating blow of their broken mast on Leg 1. In the past four scoring events PUMA have finished second three times and now first, with real momentum with the American-based team as they head towards Leg 6 to Miami in the United States.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will ship their boat to Itajaí for Leg 6, while Sanya will rejoin the race in Miami after losing a rudder while leading earlier on Leg 5.
06/04/2012 19:48:37 UTC
DTL DTLC BS DTF
1 PUMA FIN 019d 18h 09m 50s
2 TELE FIN 019d 18h 22m 29s
- CAMP Suspended Racing
- GPMA Suspended Racing
- ADOR Did Not Finish
- SNYA Did Not Finish
Franck Cammas and his men rounded Cape Horn this Friday at 1255 UTC and are leading this fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. They still have 1,700 miles to go before they reach Brazil and the Americans are putting increasing pressure on them as Puma is just an hour astern of Groupama 4.
“Puma is now our most dangerous rival so we’re sailing according to what she does. For the overall ranking it would be good to keep the Americans astern of us into Itajai, but I think Telefonica will be able to hang onto third place in this leg. Ken Read and his crew aren’t making many mistakes and they’ve negotiated the South Pacific very well. It’s certainly going to be a fine race to Brazil! We’ll have to make sure we don’t fall asleep on the job…” stated Franck Cammas before Cape Horn.
Indeed the Americans made up a vast amount of their deficit last night due to the series of gybes Groupama 4 had to link together to adapt to the north-westerly wind shift. Puma was able to benefit from a more gradual shift to gain nearly forty miles in one night and the two boats were close to each other as they rounded Cape Horn, early this Friday afternoon: Franck Cammas and his men caught a brief glimpse of the legendary rock at 1400 hours, followed an hour later by Ken Read and his crew. This island to the extreme South marks a radical change, not just in terms of the sea state and the cold, which has reigned over recent days, but also the degree of intensity of this leg, which has transformed into a Franco-American duel. However, the weather situation after Drake’s Passage isn’t the easiest to understand…
In fact the solid twenty knots or so of north-westerly wind, which was blowing as they rounded the legendary rock, will ease considerably offshore of Isla de Los Estados. Added to that, the warm front which generated the mist at daybreak this Friday, will give way to less cloudy skies. It would seem that two major options are possible for the climb up to Brazil: a route along the Argentinean coast in a moderate westerly air flow with the emergence of a mini depression to the North of the Falklands, or a more easterly trajectory, leaving the Falklands to port so as to distance themselves from the influence of the Andes cordillera and skirt around the outside of this barometric minimum. However, what’s vital in all this is their positioning around Rio de la Plata in three days’ time, as a zone of high pressure is blocking the way to Brazil. For the French, the decision about which way to go will also depend on how the Americans react to the situation…
The Cape of Good Deliverance
“For over ten days, it’s been very full-on physically, with some very big waves pushed along by a big southerly swell, with some strong winds and speeds which reached thirty knots at times in the troughs… The proximity of Puma would seem to suggest that the coming week isn’t going to be exactly restful! We can feel our rival breathing down our necks and clearly they don’t want to get left behind after Cape Horn… We’ll respond to them by showing that we’re capable of taking up a challenge and going faster than them. There’s some psychological game playing here and it’s revived with each new position report every three hours. Up till now, we’ve been dealing with the Southern Ocean at our own pace, but now, as we make Cape Horn, we’re getting back into race mode with all the fatigue that we’ve accumulated. This is the point I call “the Cape of good deliverance”: this is where the race really begins! It’s an imposing rock and it always gives me a special emotion” commented Thomas Coville, before rounding Cape Horn for the ninth time.
In this way, the first of the next 36 hours will see them make fairly quick headway towards the North-East and the crew of Groupama 4 will very quickly latch onto some less extreme weather conditions: the seas are likely to be smoother and the cold decreasingly harsh, but the wind may well be more fickle. The ETA in Itajai currently stands between the evening of Wednesday 4 April (local time) and noon on Thursday…
Standing for the 5th leg from Auckland – Itajai 30 March 2012, 1300 UTC
1. Groupama 1,920.3 miles from the finish
2. Puma 16.3 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica 303.3 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper 1,347.6 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 1,696.8 miles astern of the leader
6. Sanya DNF.
Leg 5 leaders Groupama throttled back to preserve man and boat as the fleet saw a return to the classic Southern Ocean conditions of huge, confused seas and gale-force winds on Tuesday.
Despite a lead of just 37 nautical miles (nm) Franck Cammas’ crew chose safety over speed to avoid breakages to their Volvo Open 70 as winds hit more than 35 knots and waves grew to around six metres following a brief respite from the thrashing yesterday.
Four of the six-strong fleet have suffered damage so far in the 6,700nm leg from Auckland to Itajaí and Groupama skipper Cammas said in the Southern Ocean, survival must come before speed.
“We had to slow down during the night to nurse the boat and the men,” he said. “We are waiting for the day to come to put some more sails up again.
“It’s more about surviving than racing. For sure it’s been the toughest week since the start of the race.”
Groupama helmsman Laurent Pagès added: “We have been sailing this way since we got to this part of the ocean where the sea state is really bad.
“When we returned to boat breaking conditions we took our foot off the pedal. We gave some miles to PUMA but it’s all fine because we don’t have any problems on board.”
Despite slowing the boat down, Groupama were hurtling along at an average of 21 knots in the three hours prior to the 1300 UTC position report.
Hot on their heels were Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG as both teams passed the eastern ice limit, allowing them to dive south and take the shortest possible route to Cape Horn, around 1,200nm away.
Telefónica slipped to 314 nm off the lead after being forced to hold back to prevent damage to their bow getting worse.
Still in fourth but heading to southern Chile to carry out repairs to their damaged bow, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand celebrated getting to within 2,000 miles of their destination, Puerto Montt.
“It’s a milestone for us,” said helmsman Tony Rae. “Another step towards getting to land and making the repairs.
“Once we get to Puerto Montt and have a look at the damage we’ll know when we can leave again.”
1415 nm behind the leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were revelling in much less dangerous conditions than the rest of the fleet and looking forward to opportunities further along the course.
“We haven’t seen too much harsh weather since leaving New Zealand so we’re just chipping away and enjoying the downwind Southern Ocean downwind yachting,” said Abu Dhabi’s newest recruit, Australian Olympic sailor Anthony ‘Nocka’ Nossiter.
“We’re happy to be stuck in lighter airs at the back of the fleet if the front guys are going to break their boats in hard core weather. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Nocka, who last competed in the Volvo Ocean Race on current CEO Knut Frostad’s Djuice Dragons in 2001-02, added: “We’re quite a long way off the pace with our delayed start time but you never know what could happen.
“The last time I did this race we passed three boats between Cape Horn and the finish.
“It’s like a totally new race after the Horn, it could be a restart.”
Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya reached Tauranga in New Zealand on Tuesday, five days after a broken rudder forced them to turn back.
Sanya will ship their boat to Savannah in the United States for repairs before sailing it to Miami to rejoin the race for Leg 7.
27/03/2012 13:06:25 UTC
DTL DTLC BS DTF
1 GPMA 0.00 0 21.3 3112.3
2 PUMA 37.00 7 19.8 3149.3
3 TELE 313.90 13 15.8 3426.1
4 CMPR 856.60 45 5.9 3968.9
5 ADOR 1415.40 35 17.8 4527.7
- SNYA Did Not Finish
Team Sanya led the fleet out of Auckland and into a likely battering from the weather en route to the Southern Ocean, as Leg 5 to Itajaí got underway with the second half of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 completely open.
Auckland skipper Mike Sanderson enjoyed a dream start to the leg as his underdog Sanya outfit led the fleet around the inshore course on his home waters.
Sanya smoked their five rivals off the start line, enjoying better breeze in a commanding position to round the first mark ahead of Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG followed them around the televised section, followed by Team Telefónica, CAMPER with Emirates Team Zealand and Groupama sailing team.
With 6,700 nautical miles of ocean racing ahead of them, no team will be placing any significance on the leaving positions, especially with such a trial by the elements in prospect.
According to race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante a low pressure system to the north east of Auckland is set to intensify as it moves towards the colder waters of the Southern Ocean.
“It’s a heat machine right now,” Infante said. “As it interacts with the cooler air off New Zealand it could generate some big winds — 30 knots up to maybe even 50 or 60 knots.”
PUMA skipper Ken Read said keeping the boat and the crew in one piece was the top priority, with gales likely in the first few days.
Read added: “It’s going to be boat-breaking and person-breaking weather, and I think the smart will prevail.”
As the leg goes on, the fleet will sail through the notorious Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties where the winds consistently blow above 40 knots and conditions are more than capable of breaking boats.
Three new sailors have been added to the crew lists in Auckland. Anthony Nossiter from Australia is joining Abu Dhabi to replace the outgoing Justin Ferris, while just for this leg Finnish Olympic gold medal winner Thomas Johanson takes over from injured Kelvin Harrap on PUMA and Danish Olympic gold medallist Martin Kirketerp steps in on Sanya for Ryan Houston who has a kidney infection.
With the weather forecast to batter the fleet in the opening day of the leg, it will be a baptism of fire for the new crewmembers.
“Right now all our focus is on the weather forecast, which looks absolutely diabolical for the first 36 hours,” said Ian Walker, skipper of fifth-placed Abu Dhabi. “We just have to prepare our boat and our people as best we can.”
Despite having three leg wins and two in-port victories under their belt, Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica sit just 15 points clear at the top of the overall leaderboard, with less than 40 points separating the top four boats and fifth-placed Abu Dhabi still determined to fight their way back into the reckoning.
And as the 39,000 nautical mile race hits its mid-point with Leg 5 to Itajaí in Brazil, with more than half the points still to be awarded, it is anyone’s to win.
“The door has always been open for any team to win,” Martínez said. “The teams are very close and there will be some more boats winning legs for sure.”
CAMPER, currently ranked third overall behind Telefónica and Groupama, started the leg riding the high of victory on home waters in Saturday’s In-Port Race.
And with just 18 points separating them from the leaders, skipper Chris Nicholson said his team were still very much in the race.
“It’s still well and truly game on,” he said. “I see the future for the overall podium results for this leg as wide open — as wide open now as they were in Alicante.”
“I’ve been watching this race since 1981 and never before got this far and not really known what’s going to happen going forward,” added Sanderson whose sixth-placed Sanya are showing their best form of the race.
After second place finishes in Leg 4 and the Auckland In-Port Race, PUMA are also on a roll – but skipper Ken Read, who skippered PUMA to third place in the Southern Ocean leg of the 2008-09 event, said keeping the boat and the crew in one piece was the top priority.
“Quite frankly this is not a leg to be talking about wins and losses right now,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to talk tough but the reality is this is not the most hospitable part of the world and we have to make sure we’re smart.”
Leg 5 is expected to take around 18 days to complete.
Local heroes CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand stormed to victory in front of tens of thousands of ecstatic home fans in the Auckland In-Port Race on Saturday, giving them a first Volvo Ocean Race victory and ‘flicking a switch’ on their campaign.
Chris Nicholson’s men produced a dominant performance on the waters of Waitemata Harbour, taking the lead on the sprint to the first mark thanks to their decision to tack way out to shore and out of the strongest current, and then refusing to let go.
Fifty-four seconds after they heard the gun – and huge cheers from the crowd — PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crossed the line in second place ahead of Groupama sailing team following a terrific battle for the podium positions.
Behind them, Auckland-born skipper Mike Sanderson was also celebrating as Team Sanya finished the race in fourth, having out-manoeuvred Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth and overall race leaders Team Telefónica in sixth.
Tens of thousands of people lined Auckland’s shoreline and packed hundreds of spectator boats to watch Auckland’s first Volvo Ocean Race action in 10 years – and a win for CAMPER, the Spanish-sponsored team who count Auckland as one of their two home ports, made the day all the more special.
“The one thing we said all week is how do we thank everyone who has supported us and I hope this goes a long way to doing it,” said CAMPER’s Australian skipper Chris Nicholson as his team moved back to within 18 points of the leaders. “It’s been a huge week of support and it’s helped.
“Now we’ve flicked the switch and we want this on the next leg.”
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG got off to a flying start leading the boats over the line in 15-20 knots of easterly breeze but by the first turning mark CAMPER had snuck in front.
Groupama moved up into second but PUMA clawed their way back on the second upwind leg, overtaking Franck Cammas’ men to claim second and bank a vital five points.
“It was a lot of fun,” said PUMA skipper Ken Read. “We had a good start but CAMPER got the first shift and that’s all they needed.”
With Telefónica picking up just one point for sixth place, their stronghold on the overall leaderboard weakened.
“We had a pretty bad race,” said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez. “We didn’t sail well, so it was a headache for us. It was pretty difficult. We didn’t have much room to play with out there.”
Groupama moved to within 15 points of the overall leaders as they took home four points from the in-port race.
“Third is not so bad,” said Cammas. “We had a problem with the keel which lost us the 20-second advantage which we had over PUMA and PUMA took advantage well to overtake us. But apart from that we are happy with the race.”
Team Sanya scored their best result since the Iberdrola In-Port Race in Alicante, the first competitive racing of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.
“That was awesome,” said Sanya’s local boy Sanderson. “We’re just so stoked to be in the race but that was one step better because we had a couple of boats behind us.”
The fleet now faces its biggest challenge yet when they set sail from Auckland at 1400 local time on Sunday – the Southern Ocean.
The 6,705 nautical mile sprint around Cape Horn and on to Itajaí in Brazil will see the teams dodging icebergs and huge storms.
“The Southern Ocean is a fearsome place and deserves a great deal of respect,” said Telefónica watch captain Neal McDonald. “Climbing Everest is not particularly risk free or glamorous but people want to do it for the challenge and it’s the same with the Southern Ocean.”
Waves of 12 metres and winds of up to 60 knots are forecast and teams will use night-vision goggles to try to spot icebergs at night.
Three new sailors join the fleet for Leg 5. Anthony Nossiter from Australia is joining Abu Dhabi to replace the outgoing trimmer/helmsman Justin Ferris, Finnish Olympic gold medal winner Thomas Johanson takes over for the leg from injured Kelvin Harrap on PUMA and Danish Olympic gold medallist Martin Kirketerp steps up for Leg 5 on Sanya for Ryan Houston who picked up a kidney infection.
The Leg 5 start will be broadcast live from 1400 local time (0100 UTC) on Sunday. The leg should take the fleet around 17 days to complete.
Watch the action live at www.volvooceanrace.com or at the race’s Livestream page HERE. Coverage starts 15 minutes prior to the leg start.
Auckland In-Port Race results:
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (60min 38sec) 6pts
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (+0:54) 5pts
Groupama sailing team (+1:26) 4pts
Team Sanya (+2:20) 3pts
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (+2:52) 2 pts
Team Telefónica (+3:27) 1 pts
The final outcome of Leg 4 from China to New Zealand remained far from certain today as the fleet set up to round the island of New Caledonia while a complex and rapidly changing weather scenario raised prospects of a leaderboard shuffle on the final approach to Auckland.
The even spilt in the fleet which has prevailed for the past week began to diminish today as the leading pair, Groupama sailing team and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG tried to translate their easterly separation into genuine distance ahead and Telefónica and CAMPER finally abandoned the west.
The fleet look most likely to round the 300 mile long land mass to the west before heading for Auckland and to avoid the huge wind shadow thrown by its mountainous terrain the teams will need to push well south before making the left turn.
Also driving the teams’ headlong rush to the south is a light wind zone developing close behind the fleet threatening to compress the standings if it overruns the fleet.
For Mike Sanderson’s six placed older generation boat Team Sanya, the unpredictable conditions could mean a chance to beat at least one of the new boats to Auckland — a scalp which Sanderson says the Sanya crew justly deserve.
“I think there are plenty of opportunities,” he said. “We are being chased down by light airs behind us so the whole fleet is racing south to try and escape its clutches. We are only just hanging on by the skin of our teeth.
“Until the Solomons we were pretty pleased how we were staying with the fleet,” he said. “Obviously Telefónica is on the march that’s for sure but in relation to CAMPER and Abu Dhabi we are in pretty similar shape as to when the fleet rotated south more than 2,500 miles ago.
“So we are quite pleased with ourselves over that. It’s been a great performance and the guys have done an awesome job of sailing the boat.
“In the back of my mind I really feel like we deserve to beat someone on this leg so I certainly hope that from New Caledonia to New Zealand can be our turn,” Sanderson concluded.
The battle royale for fourth place between Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing continued to be close despite the huge lateral separation between the teams.
“We are in there with those guys (Abu Dhabi) and to an extent PUMA trying to get south at the moment,” said CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson today.
“We have got a huge separation east west on them and at the moment the way forward for us out in the west looks OK — but we are looking at it changing hourly.”
At 1300 UTC Abu Dhabi were ahead by just 0.2 nautical miles (nm) after CAMPER and Telefónica both tacked towards the east as their breeze dropped below 10 knots, prompting second placed PUMA to follow suit.
Nicholson cautioned that the potential effect of New Caledonia on the prevailing easterly wind should not be taken lightly.
“The land shadow will be big,” he said. “It’s amazing the effect these mountains have on the breeze in this part of the world. We went under an island yesterday and we were 60 miles away and we felt the wind shadow from that very hard on us. So we will be careful of that and continue on our journey south.”
Nicholson said he was keeping a very open mind about the final section from New Caledonia to Auckland where he reckoned absolutely anything could happen.
There’s opportunities here I think for every team at the moment — and that ranges between a first or a last in this leg,” he said. “Certainly nothing can be taken for granted at the moment.”
On Abu Dhabi Ian Walker admitted frustration over so far not getting the advantage he had anticipated after fighting for eastern leverage and losing ground to third placed overall race leaders, Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We are not making the gain in the east we might have expected and Telefónica seems to be moving forward.
“I think we are quite close with CAMPER and still ahead of Sanya so I hope our easterly position pays. Maybe the leaders will slow down in lighter winds towards the finish and maybe the whole fleet will compress.
“We will see — I guess Groupama will be hoping nothing changes,” he added.
Meanwhile, on Franck Cammas’ Groupama sailing team the long time leg leaders were trying to laugh off some of the more nightmarish scenarios their routing software threw up.
“When running the routing for the top three boats, you can see that the first one is still largely ahead with 500 miles to go till the finish,” said Media Crew Member (MCM) Yann Riou.
“Then it gets caught up in a windless zone which it can’t get out of whilst two pursuers calmly go around the zone and end up with a lead of 11 hours.
“Of course this routing, which almost had us laughing, shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It was a very special situation which the software had problems getting a handle on — the whole thing was based on GRIB files with a fairly weak percentage of confidence involved.
“But I suppose it goes some way to showing what we could be in store for at the end of the week.” Riou concluded.
With 1,400 nm still to go on Leg 4 the leading boats are currently expected to reach Auckland on the morning of March 10.kedown.”
05/03/2012 13:02:59 UTC
DTL DTLC BS DTF
1 GPMA 0.00 0 11.3 1372.3
2 PUMA 70.10 16 7.3 1442.4
3 TELE 114.60 8 8.9 1486.9
4 ADOR 151.50 4 10.2 1523.8
5 CMPR 151.70 10 9.5 1524.0
6 SNYA 235.00 3 11.7 1607.3