Three Wise Men Shepard Camper Into The Lead
Without the aid of a even a Christmas star to follow, three wise men on board Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand have guided the team swiftly through the Doldrums and into first place today.
Nicholson says co-skipper Stu Bannatyne, navigator Will Oxley and co-navigator Andrew McLean came up with a solid Doldrums strategy which was implemented perfectly by the crew.
As one by one the teams ahead of them ground to a halt after falling foul of light and fickle breezes, CAMPER cut a swathe through the Doldrums, rarely dropping below 10 knots, before emerging as the new leg leader today.
“We’ve wriggled our way through the lead. Stu, Will and Animal [Andrew McLean] had a good plan from the get-go and we’ve been able to deliver on that plan up on deck,” he said. “It’s been really pleasing to see the work that’s been put in and the way we went about making the decisions. It’s quite a good feeling.”
At 1300 UTC CAMPER were almost 24 nautical miles in front of overall race leaders, Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica who previously had headed the fleet for a while after wrestling the lead from Franck Cammas’ Groupama sailing team, who now sit in third.
Groupama skipper Franck Cammas said being first to enter the Doldrums had not been easy for the French team and had given the others a clue to the best route to take.
“It’s infuriating. The Doldrums are an area of uncertainty, difficult to predict and to have a suitable strategy when you enter. For the moment we are losing a bit. The leg is not over but the Doldrums have not been an easy time for us.”
“For two-thirds of the Doldrums we were the most westerly of the fleet,” he said. “We were the first to enter and so we were the first to stop, which allowed the boats behind to bypass the zone without wind where we were and they overtook us.”
“The exit is not completely finished so we will know more once everyone is out but for sure that we were in a better situation when we entered than we are today.”
Having entered the Doldrums in second place, Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG have dropped to fourth, while Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing remains in fifth, having for a while at least closed to within 5 nautical miles of PUMA.
Read said PUMA’s second Doldrums experience had been frustrating but hoped the tables could yet turn in their favour.
“Nobody ever said this sport was easy but man, I don’t think it needs to be this hard,” he said. “Once we get out of this thing, being on the west will be great but the problem is that the other guys are doing a better job of getting out of the Doldrums than we are.
“A west advantage doesn’t mean anything unless you can pop your nose out clean. That’s really the spot we’re in.
“There’s tonnes more weirdness ahead and there’s plenty of race track left. I’m hoping what goes around comes around.”
On second placed Team Telefónica Media Crew Member (MCM) Diego Fructuoso said the punishing heat on board and the pressure of the race meant the crew were putting aside thoughts of Christmas.
“We don’t have anything special for today,” he said. “Best not to think about it, as we would get depressed.
“We will continue to work as hard as possible, we will eat a little pasta, which is the best meal we have on the boat and as a special treat we will have some 1880 nougat which we were given as a present for today.
“If we can, we will try to call home to give a kiss to our families.”
Frustrated Abu Dhabi skipper, Ian Walker said the fifth placed team had thought they were free of the Doldrums at one point before being sucked back in.
“This morning we have again been swallowed up as the Doldrums have edged North over the top of us,” he said. “We have had about 3 knots of breeze all day and are barely able to creep towards stronger wind and salvation from the searing heat.
“It is particularly galling today as we closed to within 5 miles of Puma this morning only to again sit in a cloud with no wind for hours on end as they moved away.
“As always we will not give up hope, but our current predicament will be tough to turn around. Still, we have freeze-dried Christmas Dinner to look forward to tomorrow.”
On new leaders CAMPER, skipper Chris Nicholson said their lead was not certain and there will be no let up in the intensity of the racing until the boats cross the finish line at the safe haven port.
“We’ve just broken into the westerly breeze system so we have to wait until the next schedule when the other boats have too,” he said.
“Groupama will have a bit of leverage over us which is a little uncomfortable. It means they could potentially go quicker, so we’ll have to monitor that. We also have to keep an eye on Telefónica.
“There’s an awful lot more to play out in this race.”
French Rocket Ship Extends Lead
Franck Cammas has Groupama 4 firing on all cylinders as his team pushes the boat hard towards the Doldrum belt ahead. There is no let-up and Cammas is intent on putting as many hours as possible between his team and the chasing pack in conditions in which Groupama 4 simply excels.
Cammas reported this afternoon that his helmsmen are having a ball steering the boat, but the wind is on the beam, the sea is messy and the spray constantly crashing over the deck is giving the red-eyed crew a tough time. The boat is wet both on deck and down below.
The east south-easterly trade winds are becoming more unstable as the fleet progresses north towards the no-wind zone. It is Cammas’ plan to position Groupama 4 between the fleet and the unpredictable Doldrums, an area where a substantial lead can be very easily be swallowed up by the chasing pack.
However, there is no threat tonight from the four boats behind, which all lost miles on the French team between the 1600 and 1900 UTC position reports. Their nearest rival, PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) need to close a gap of 78.6 nautical miles (nm) and Read has a 10-mile buffer on overall race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP). CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) are a further 20 nm in deficit, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) are a shade under 230 nautical miles in arrears. None can match the 21.5-knot average speed of the French rocket ship and only PUMA are coming close, but still a knot slower.
Groupama are expected to enter the ‘stealth zone’, an area where the positions of the fleet will remain undisclosed in order to protect the crews from pirate activity, on Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, Team Sanya remain in Madagascar where they are working to repair damage suffered to their rig on Monday while in the lead. They have suspended racing from this leg.
Sanya Detours For Repairs As Fleet Closes Up
Team Sanya were forced to sacrifice their Leg 2 lead and detour west to Madagascar for emergency repairs on Monday, leaving CAMPER, Telefónica and PUMA’s Mar Mostro to fight it out for first place within two nautical miles of each other.
Mike Sanderson and his crew on board Sanya continue to sail cautiously to Madagascar where they will assess options to repair their rigging, which was damaged in the early hours of Monday.
Sanderson said it was fortunate that the team’s new helmsman/trimmer David Rolfe spotted the broken rigging cable, a D2, shortly before a planned tack.
“We were just lucky that it happened in daylight,’’ said the skipper, who described himself as “absolutely gutted” at an incident that occurred while the team were widening their lead over the fleet. “If it had happened in the dark, we wouldn’t have noticed it and we would have tacked and the mast would have fallen down instantly.”
Team Sanya are expected to arrive at Madagascar tomorrow, where they will survey the damage and continue to make plans to resume racing as soon as possible.
Sanya’s detour has caused a major shake up in the fleet – with Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand slipping into the lead at 1400 UTC, just 1.3 nautical miles ahead of overall leaders Team Telefónica, with PUMA Ocean Racing Powered by BERG trailing by 2.2 nm.
The Indian Ocean trade winds have given a much needed speed injection to the fleet, which is averaging boat speeds in the mid-teens as they head north to the safe haven on a superhighway of stable, if sometimes squally conditions.
However, it is fourth placed Groupama sailing team who are the ones to watch, with their southerly gamble now placing them further east with more constant wind and a better sailing angle.
Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said Groupama could gain an extra three to four knots boat speed than the rest of the fleet over coming days, as they are furthest from a menacing low-pressure system in the west.
Cammas says the French team’s combined ocean racing experience is paying dividends.
“I think we had a different approach from the rest of the fleet,’’ he said. “They tried to stay on a more direct route, waiting for opportunities, to cross the front. We will draw the conclusions in a few days.
"We ended up in a different option for two legs now, it certainly comes from our experience with multihulls and in France."
CAMPER’s under-30 bowman Daryl Wislang wasn’t deterred by Groupama’s favourable predictions, especially given the turbulence of the Leg 2 race to Abu Dhabi so far.
Wislang said his team were focused on the “end game” and have the boat fully stacked, with nothing left to leeward, as they settled in for a starboard “drag race” toward the Doldrums some 1600 nm away.
“As we’ve seen we had two restarts in the leg so far and the Doldrums could be the third,’’ he said.
“It’s just a matter of keeping in with the game. Anything can happen right down to the last 100 miles. There are always opportunities and we’ll just be making the most of them.”
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are trailing Groupama by about 60 nm, with a boat speed that is on average about two knots slower than their rivals.
The fleet is heading towards an undisclosed safe haven port in the Indian Ocean as part of the race’s anti-piracy plan for Legs 2 and 3. The boats will be loaded onto a ship and transported to a point off the Sharjah coast, where they will resume racing with a sprint into Abu Dhabi.