Camper takes 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 was almost 24 nautical miles in front of overall race leaders, Iker Martínez’s Telefónica which previously had headed the fleet for a while after wrestling the lead from Franck Cammas’ Groupama, which now sits 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. 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, the Ken Read skippered Puma Ocean Racing has dropped to fourth, while the Ian Walker skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing remains in fifth, having for a while at least closed to within five 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. 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 Telefónica 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 leader 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. 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.”