Full Strength Fleet Returns To Racing Action
For three teams it will be an achievement simply making the start line of the V&A Waterfront In-Port Race in Cape Town on Saturday (1300 GMT/UTC) but don’t expect the competition to be anything less than full-blooded when all six boats get to race against each other for the first time in over a month.
Team Sanya, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG were all forced to retire from Leg 1 and have been working against the clock to get their boats ready for the weekend.
For the three teams that made the Leg 1 podium – winners Team Telefónica, second-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama sailing team in third -- it has scarcely been less frantic with a shorter than usual Cape Town stopover meaning all have had to graft to complete their work lists.
Given the lack of time to put anything right for Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi, which starts on Sunday, you could forgive all the teams for choosing a safety first approach for the in-port race but that would not sit well with the competitive nature of the six skippers.
“I’d love to say we’re smart enough to ease off but I’m not sure we are,” said Ken Read, skipper of PUMA’s Mar Mostro.
The leaderboard heading into Saturday has Telefónica with 31 points, CAMPER with 29 and Groupama with 22, followed by Abu Dhabi on 6, PUMA with 5 and Sanya 3. The winners of the in-port race will scoop 6 points, with 5 for second and so on down to 1 point for last place.
In total, the in-port racing delivers close to 20 per cent of the points and with the 2011-12 edition tipped to be the most competitive ever, the value of the shorter races – which are scheduled to last less than an hour and give the public a chance to see the boats in close-quarter competition – is not lost on anyone.
“I’ll try and win the race,” said Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker. “It’s even more important for us now because we’re behind on points, so one way we can claw back some of those points is to try and excel in the in-port race. We’re just going to work; we’re going to give it hell, yeah.”
The racecourse will be located outside of Cape Town’s port to the east of Table Bay if the wind is blowing from the south east, and will feature a downwind start followed by an L-shaped course. If the wind swings to the south west, the course will be moved to the west of the bay to escape the wind shadow created by Table Mountain.
The forecast is for around 15 knots of wind – perfect racing conditions for the Volvo Open 70s to provide a spectacle to the thousands of spectators expected to line the shores of the bay.
Abu Dhabi, Sanya and PUMA were all back out sailing on Thursday after sterling work from their shore crews to get ready. Abu Dhabi had to step the mast and tune the rig after coming in by container ship on November 30. Sanya arrived the same day and had to put their boat together again after building a huge replacement section of their hull. PUMA only got the boat back to their shore base in the early hours of Wednesday morning and have had to work round the clock to replace the mast and complete preparations.
The other teams have all checked their rigging carefully after the events of Leg 1 and are eager for battle to recommence.
“We are stronger now than when we left Alicante,” said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. “We are in good shape in terms of boat preparation for the next leg and in good shape with our spirits.”
Telefónica won the first leg but could not have performed worse in the first in-port race so their mood is anything but complacent.
“The team is very happy but at the same time very realistic,” said skipper Iker Martínez. “Just because we won the first leg we’re not thinking that we’re better than the others. That can be a big mistake.”
Team Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez:
“It was not good racing in Alicante for the in-port race, but then the first leg was the best that you can do, winning the leg. The first leg is very special, so that’s even more important. Now it is time to go again for the in-port. As we saw in the first leg it is very important to make the boat safe, so on one hand you want to go very fast, and on the other you don’t want to break your boat. So we’re looking forward to the in-port. We were always thinking that being on the podium is a good position to start. We were a little bit scared, as always before you start, that someone else is very fast and you won’t be able to catch him, which is what happened last time with Ericsson or the one before with ABN. But once we were sailing we saw that we were good, and we saw that everyone was close. We understand that this race is probably going to be close all the time.”
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson:
“I’m feeling a little rushed to be honest with you, but everyone will be in the same boat. It is an extremely compressed schedule at the moment but in all the rushing around and everything we’re pretty conscious about what are the priorities, what are the big things we have to get right. The boat’s in fantastic shape from a really good refit basically in Cape Town and the crew’s all healthy -- Mike’s got his front teeth back, so all in all we’re in good shape. I guess like anything we’d always like more time to prepare tactically or weather wise, but you know, that is what it is and we’re in the same boat as everyone else.”
Groupama sailing team skipper Franck Cammas:
“We are in good shape in terms of boat preparation for the next leg and in good shape with our spirits. We are good and we have a lot of chances to keep going like that. The ambience will be the same as the Alicante start with the first night very hard on the boats and the crew with a lot of wind ahead. It’s still a good test for the ability of the boats but with the first leg out of the way and with the incidents on the other boats the fleet is now more prepared and we can be more confident in the reliability of the fleet.”
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker:
“We’re good -- we’re back to us being in A1 condition. It feels a bit strange because really we should be feeling super confident like we were when we left Alicante, but obviously we can’t get the mast failure out of our minds and that is going to take us a while to get over that. We need to fall off some big waves and get confidence in the mast and rigging back, that’s not something you can force that’s just going to come over time. You’d like to say you need to be more careful, but our rig didn’t fall down because we weren’t being careful, and neither did PUMA’s, and these boats can bite you in any conditions so we just have to make sure we keep our concentration, make sure we don’t make a mistake, which can always happen, and then just rely on the design and technology to stay in one piece.”
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG skipper Ken Read:
“I think it will be good therapy for us. We need to go racing. It’s what we do, it’s what we’re here for. We haven’t done it in a long time. A hundred per cent of me is scared that this is our last rig. We have to walk before we can run. Would it be a wonderful Cinderella story to go out and win the In-Port Race? Of course it would. But it’s going to be windy and it’s easy to say now but if we do something stupid and lose our rig our race is over. I’d love to say we’re smart enough to ease off but I’m not sure we are. OK, so things didn’t go our way. Do you sit around and feel sorry for yourself or do you make the best of it. Hopefully we dragged a few more people into our sport because of it.”
Team Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson:
“It’s just blown me away that the guys managed to fix this thing in a week. It feels as good as it should. The rusty bit is going to be us! We’ve got to be careful in the in-port Race. I think we have to be conservative. Getting the boat on the start line on Sunday is the highest priority. We will be using the pro-am Race to check a few final things off. To be honest our intention is to take it easy on Saturday so we’re all ready for Sunday.”