Volvo Ocean Race gets tactical

Puma stays north as Camper has gone on a mini Caribbean tour

Saturday May 5th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Volvo Ocean Race charts courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and GRIB (GFS model) from PredictWind

Positions at 0655

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Puma Ken Read 19 32.350n 063 52.420w 4.2 272 985.6 0
2 Camper Chris Nicholson 19 26.720n 063 42.420w 3.3 279 996.6 11
3 Telefonica Iker Martinez 19 40.180n 063 25.200w 4.2 286 1004.3 18.7
4 Groupama Franck Cammas 18 44.550n 063 08.880w 10.2 273 1045.1 59.5
5 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 18 49.600n 062 49.970w 10.3 333 1058 72.4

With an area of light winds to the north, so yesterday the Volvo Ocean Race boats gybed to the west, with Puma and Camper leading the move west yesterday morning, followed by Telefonica. For Puma this was relatively short-lived and she gybed back to the north, while Camper continued on and set about a mini Caribbean tour, first gybing to the north of Antigua and then again off St Barts before clearing the eastern point of Anguilla with at one point 120 miles of lateral separation with Puma. Meanwhile Telefonica was playing the middle ground, erring eventually to the north, gybing west to the south of Puma.

Impressively despite these dramatically varying tactics, with the boats now converged once again, the upshot of this has change this morning. Puma continues to lead with Camper second 11 miles astern in terms of distance to finish with Telefonica 18.7 miles off the lead, having taken the northerly berth from Puma yesterday evening. Between the two latest scheds the wind has disappeared for the lead trio, as the numbers above show.

Behind the competition has also got close with Abu Dhabi Ocean Race benefitting from her westerly position. After Groupama gybed to cover them yesterday afternoon, so by the evening their lead over Ian Walker's team had dwindled to just 7 miles. With the leaders having slowed so both have made great gains on the front trio, with Groupama now 60 miles behind Puma, with Abu Dhabi a further 13 miles astern.

“It’s been a high risk game of chess for the last 24 hours,” admitted Camper skipper Nicholson. "At the end of today, it looks like we are going to resume in very similar pieces of water. I am honestly not sure which boats will be the most relieved, but we are looking forward to the next rematch."

Weather-wise the wind satellite radar images show that the northeasterlies will fill in for the leaders a little further up to the course to the northwest, while there is another substantially zone of no wind to the north. As ever there seems to be more wind on the left side of the course, so perhaps we'll see Camper make some gains today? Abu Dhabi and Groupama are now to the north of Anguilla and still making good progress so we can expect them to close more on the leaders, as they try to sidestep the light patch the leaders are currently stuck in.

Ken Read reports from Puma:

Our little joy ride of the past several days has quickly come to a screeching halt! Uggggh. The painful reality is setting in that the final 1,400 miles is going to be a light air crapshoot. Got to be lucky. Got to be good. And, did I say you have to be lucky as well? The piece of wood on the nav station desk is going to get worn out. I can see it now. Biggest injury to report on this leg will be splinters from "touching wood."

All too often in this race the leaders have been worn down by the weather. For sure we have been the recipients of this phenomena when behind, but at the same time it seems like we have been the victims often as well. I guess the last leg is the ultimate example of the leader getting caught up in lighter winds as the trailers come roaring in hot and heavy. Telefónica made up 400-plus miles in the last week of Leg 5 to make the finish just a bit too close for comfort.

This leg is slightly different where as there are no clear-cut leaders at this stage. We have warded off the constant attack from CAMPER and Telefónica to date but the roulette wheel of who is ahead and behind is about to start spinning. The trade winds of the Caribbean and Bahamas are non-existent. We have already split apart a hundred or so miles laterally, mainly due to the fact that there are squalls everywhere and you have to play in the breeze that you are in. They both had right-hand breeze for 6 hours when we had an extreme left-hand breeze, and sure enough we are incredibly far apart in a very short period of time. All bets are on the table.

Add to the mix that our normal 3-hour position reports starting having big glitches from Volvo headquarters starting this morning just as things were getting dicey, so it was even harder to keep track of each other. The perfect storm of separation on the racetrack.

All good on board…although it is a big roller coaster. A big header and some breeze and there is a sigh of relief as you head for the mark. A light air lift and there is certainly some tension on board as to our positioning on the racetrack. It is only normal.

So we will continue on with our Russian roulette game and hope that our side wins in the end just as our competitors are hoping that their side wins out. The sailing we did up to now was amazing, at high speeds, nip and tuck for days at a time. All for naught, really. The leg may be won or lost on a squall at this stage.

- Kenny

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