Volvo Ocean Race: Home straight

Puma Miami bound with 100 miles left to sail

Wednesday May 9th 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 0755:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Puma Ken Read 25 55.130n 078 08.170w 15.7 286 108.4 0
2 Camper Chris Nicholson 25 49.720n 077 48.380w 15.3 282 126.8 18.4
3 Groupama Franck Cammas 25 28.150n 076 14.150w 11.3 283 214.5 106.1
4 Telefonica Iker Martinez 25 23.770n 076 07.520w 12 273 221.4 113
5 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 25 08.870n 075 01.480w 10 354 283 174.7

For the Volvo Ocean Race leaders there has been another light night, creeping up the east coast of Eleuthera Island, during which time Camper closed to within 7.3 miles of race leader, Puma. As the two boats drifted towards the mandatory turning mark, the Eleuthera Light at the northern end of the island of the same name, so the Puma crew prepared for the worst, as they became becalmed close to the beach. After a quick gybe and a change to a different sail, the team tried their chances further offshore, but again ran out of wind as Camper appeared on the horizon.

“At this point we’re watching them sail down our line in utter amazement," described Puma's Amory Ross. "We’re drifting in complete glass-off conditions. There is not a ripple on the water and all eyes were on the advancing red sails,”

The breeze finally filled in from the southeast for the front runners as they rounded the Eleuthera Light. Puma passed the Light at around 0200 UTC followed an hour later by Camper. Now into the North Providence Channel, Puma has passed Great Stirrup Light with just one more mark of the course to go, Great Isaac Light, before she can head for the Miami finish line. Over the course of this morning Puma has extended once again and now with an 18 mile lead and just over 100 miles to go, her second consecutive leg victory in the Volvo Ocean Race is all but assured - a great result for Ken Read's team, being an American boat first into the American stopover.

Behind them the shenanigans have continued between Groupama and Telefonica with the two boats splitting around Cat Island (the Bahama island immediately south of Eleuthera) with the French boat once again taking a route around the eastern side of the island with Telefonica preferring to stay offshore. Once this seems to have made no difference to the outcome. At the latest sched the boats have just converged again with Groupama still 7 miles ahead with 23 miles to go before she reaches the Eleuthera Light. Groupama and Telefonica are in slightly less pressure than the lead duo.

Meanwhile Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing continues to bring up the rear, at present trying to find something offshore with 91 miles to go before she reaches the Light.

Last night Ken Read reported from Puma

Battles on the ocean are hard. Especially in super light air like what we have had out here the last few days. The chess match is long and painful and very often has stops and starts that stretch out the agony.

We are amongst it with CAMPER at this stage and there is a lot of runway left and tons of potholes along the way.

First of all, this could not be more unlike every other leg we have had in this race. Dry, cool nights and warm days. T-shirts and shorts always. No hint of a need for foul weather gear. A huge full moon making it closer to needing sunglasses at night rather than headlamps.

This game of chess probably has been a bit more like a tug-of-war if you are watching at home. We stretch out to what seems like a "comfortable" lead only to hit the next light air patch and watch the troops coming reeling us in. CAMPER is within sight almost always, making things a bit more tense with constant bearing checks with the handheld compass.

To be honest, these are conditions that suit CAMPER a bit better than us. They have always excelled in the light air and this is no exception. So for this we are pretty pleased we have held them off to date. And as we approach a left turn at Harbour Island in the Bahamas, we are stressing out a bit because overnight we lost sight of them and in these fickle conditions that could mean disaster. When we see them, we have a better chance of defending effectively. When we don't see them, we rely on the 3 hour position reports to tell us what the next move should be in the chess match.

The danger always is being too defensive, or too offensive. There has to be a balance and we have to remain fortunate that we simply don't sail into another wind hole that they don't sail into. A little further back are Groupama and Telefónica, neither out of this by any means.

So that is a bit of a play-by-play to date, typically not my style for a blog but necessary nonetheless. On board we have the typical banter, to which Shannon Falcone has certainly added a few interesting stories with his non-stop chatter. Probably a nice change of pace, as was Thomas Johansson who sailed with us on the last leg, for a group that has been together a lot over the last two years! For sure we have all heard the same stories a few times, and a new mix is certainly welcome.

So as we come down to the final miles, we will attempt to apply the basketball adage of keeping ourselves between our opponent and the hoop. Sure it sounds easy, but when you can't see your opponent anymore it is like playing basketball in the pitch black and trying to stay with your man. Keep playing the odds, and if they are going to pass us make them sail around us. Not easy to do, but you never know.

- Kenny



Meanwhile, the fight for the third podium place continues between Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) and Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP). After choosing different tactics to pass Cat Island on Tuesday, they have reconnected and Groupama still leads Telefónica on the approach to Eleuthera Light, but only by eight miles. They are both over 100 nm behind PUMA.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) are watching the action from the sidelines over 160 nm astern. “The pressure should build the longer we are out here, so perhaps we can come flying up from behind to make it a tight finish,” said MCM Nick Dana wistfully.

As PUMA and CAMPER count down the final hours of the 4,800 nm Leg 6 from Itajaí in Brazil to Miami, Ken Read and his men will attempt to apply the basketball adage of keeping themselves between their opponent [CAMPER] and the hoop. “Sure sounds easy, but when you can’t see your opponent anymore it is like playing basketball in the pitch black and trying to stay with your man,” Read said today.

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