Telefónica Takes Knife-Edge Victory In Leg 2, Stage 1
Team Telefónica will charge into 2012 as leaders of the Volvo Ocean Race after snatching victory over CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand in a thrilling finish to the first stage of Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.
The final 24 hours came down to an intense match race between Iker Martínez’s Telefónica, winners of Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town, as well as the Cape Town In-Port Race, and CAMPER.
The stakes were high as the two teams headed towards the secret safe haven, with CAMPER needing to finish in front to leapfrog Telefónica to go top of the leaderboard.
Chris Nicholson’s team got close, leading for long periods over a thrilling final battle between Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but in the end Telefónica came through, grabbing the definitive lead with just eight nautical miles to go.
They held on to finish at 1757.20 UTC on Monday, just one minute and 57 seconds ahead of CAMPER.
"It was a really complicated race and we were fighting all the way through," Martínez said. "For sure, it was really, really tough."
The result remains provisional after CAMPER informed race management they had raised a protest flag over a manoeuvre made towards the end of the race.
Telefónica claimed 24 points for first place in the first of a two-stage, 5,430 nautical mile (nm) leg to from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, where 80 per cent of the available points have been awarded. CAMPER take 20 for second.
The provisional leaderboard sees Telefónica top with 61 points, followed by CAMPER on 54.
The finish line was set at an undisclosed destination to protect the six-boat fleet from pirate activity. The boats will now be shipped to a point off the Sharjah coastline in the northern United Arab Emirates in time to start what is sure to be an exciting, day-long sprint to Abu Dhabi in early January for the remaining 20 per cent of the leg points.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG are currently in third place, followed by Groupama sailing team in fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing fifth. Team Sanya were forced to suspend racing and head for Madagascar, where they are repairing the rig and focusing on getting in shape for Leg 3 to their home port of Sanya in China.
After a brief period at the head of the fleet for both CAMPER and Telefónica as they fought light airs out of Cape Town, both found themselves at times near, or even at the back of the fleet.
On day four, December 14, Telefónica crossed the notorious Agulhas Current off Port Elizabeth first with CAMPER in fourth place, 44 nm behind the blue boat. As the fleet fought to free themselves from a trough that had formed between two low-pressure systems, it was Telefónica who was still looking sweet, while CAMPER had slipped another 20 nm back. The pot of gold which was the new northerly breeze waiting on the far side of the trough seemed frustratingly out of reach.
After a couple of false starts when the weather gods gave the fleet a brief taste of northerly breeze and then whipped it away, it was Telefónica who found it first and swooped into the lead with CAMPER relegated to fifth place 74 nm behind.
“It’s almost like a sport now to beat this trough line,” said CAMPER’s Chris Nicholson on day six, December 16. “It’s got a personality of its own, and I must say, I don’t like it. It is extremely stubborn and it is refusing to let us through.”
Martínez and Nicholson took the middle road to the east in a move, which ultimately set the pair up for a swift crossing of Doldrums. Telefónica still led, but the comeback kids on board CAMPER were only 2.2 nm behind, and the battle began at 35 degrees south. By day seven, after only 1,700 nm of racing, CAMPER temporarily regained lead and the fleet finally broke free of the trough.
The endless days of no wind and icy cold rainsqualls were now a distant memory as Telefónica, back in front, led PUMA Ocean Racing and CAMPER into some typical trade wind sailing under a shining sun and warm water spray.
It was all about boat speed and straight line sailing on day 11, December 21, but both Telefónica but CAMPER had slipped down the order and were now 93 and 115 nm behind the new leader, Franck Cammas’ Groupama 4 who came swooping in from their position far south.
As the fleet split in opinion on how best to tackle the Doldrums, Telefónica and CAMPER, in third and fourth, set up for the eastern end and began to make steady gains as the fleet compressed on Groupama 4.
By Day 13, December 23, Telefónica had jumped to the lead with CAMPER just 6.7 nm behind nipping at their heels. Their tour through the eastern Doldrums belt had paid off handsomely with boat speeds averaging 15 knots, while the rest of the fleet languished under big clouds with sails flapping.
The CAMPER crew had an early Christmas present, reclaiming the top of the leg leaderboard on Christmas Eve but any festive thoughts were dismissed as the teams prepared for the final battle to the finish with no prospect of a truce. The final day’s racing saw the lead change on numerous occasions with just 100 metres separating the two teams for long periods. As night fell at the safe haven port it was Team Telefónica who emerged as the final victors in the closest of contests.
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.