Third in-port race victory for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
The Volvo Ocean Race fleet was back up to full strength for the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race with six boats on the start line following the return of Team Sanya, making her first appearance since leg five. And getting underway in more than 16 knots of breeze, with the wind dropping and shifting over the duration of the in port, plus a substantial amount of Gulf Stream to make things interesting, resulted in a race where there were more position changes and snakes and ladders than we have ever seen before in a VOR in port.The start alone was an eye opener. With the wind set to abate over the course of the race, there were decidedly mixed opinion about which headsail to hoist at the get-go. At one extreme Sanya hoisted a J1, while at the other Camper hoisted a comparatively tiny J4, in line with conditions at the time.
As Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson subsequently put it: “We made a pretty gutsy move putting up the J1 jib because when we put it on it was still blowing 22 knots and we just had to pin our hopes that the breeze was going to come down, which it did. I don’t think I have started a in port race with such different jibs.”
Chris Nicholson on Camper admitted that their decision had been a mistake: “I think a lot of the teams were grasping which jib to put up – everyone left it late in the time sequence. We should have pushed it later in the sequence and chosen a bigger jib.”
Even the starting options showed great variation with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing lining up for a port tack start at the pin, with Sanya and Puma to weather, while on starboard Telefonica attempted to lock Camper out up by the committee boat, with Groupama trying to get through on port under them. But it was Ian Walker’s team on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing which made the best of it, hitting the line at full pace and blasting off to the right.
With the Gulf Stream coming towards them, ultimately there would prove to be only one option on the beat – to head right, although in the bigger winds at the start this was less of an issue and Sanya initially made good progress heading out to the left.
While Abu Dhabi led up the beat, coming into the top mark, Telefonica had made a more accurate call on the layline, got the inside overlap and managed to nose ahead to round just six seconds ahead of the UAE boat. Groupama followed with Sanya in fourth, Camper suffering from poor choice of headsail with Puma a surprising last after they had been repeated bounced around the course by the opposition.
On the run back, Groupama showed her downwind pace and with her kite beautifully set she first rolled past Abu Dhabi and then Cammas’ crew performed a slick drop at the leeward mark enabling her to edge past Telefonica and into the lead. But it was still close with just 14 seconds separating the top three boats. During the two short reaching legs, again it was sail handling that enabled Abu Dhabi to get past Telefonica going into the next beat with the wind at this point down to 12 knots.
Upwind again, the leaders headed towards the shore and Groupama extended from Abu Dhabi, both of the leaders in turn adding distance over the rest of the fleet. By the top mark rounding, the French team had extended their lead over Abu Dhabi by 54 seconds with Sanya just holding third. However at the weather mark Telefonica performed the same move as she had applied to Abu Dhabi on the last top mark rounding and got the inside berth, the two boats rounding one second apart.
By the time the boats had got to the bottom of the run for a second time the wind had dropped to 5-8 knots and Abu Dhabi managed to make up some ground on the French team when they opted to err on prudence, making a very early drop coming into the leeward mark.
Coming down with pressure from behind, there was compression among the chasing pack heading into the leeward mark with Telefonica sneaking in front of Sanya and Puma, but the boats taking a while to get up to speed again after the drop and the roundings in the light conditions.
With the wind down, the Gulf Stream was becoming a significant factor on the two short reaching legs out to the side of the leeward mark and leaders Groupama and Abu Dhabi, on port, had to head up to avoid being washed down on to the boats coming the opposite way on starboard. However one of the most significant moments in the race came as Telefonica headed into the reaching mark and then slowed dramatically as she attempted to tack, while Puma came in from behind them with more pace. Believing she had an overlap and that the Spanish had failed to keep clear Puma protested the Spanish team, which was given the thumbs down by the on-the-water judges. However with little way on, Telefonica was washed down on to the mark for which she was penalised. As a result of having to subsequently carry out a penalty turn in the diminishing wind it was effectively Miami In Port race game over for Iker Martinez’s team.
Meanwhile Sanya was also coming into the reaching mark and had to manoeuvre to avoid Telefonica and Puma and in doing so Camper managed to get inside of her.
At the beginning of what would turn out to be the final beat (as the race committee was forced to shorten course) Abu Dhabi was swift to hoist their Code 0 as both she and Groupama once again headed out to the right to get out of the worst of the Gulf Stream. However sailing higher than the French, Abu Dhabi seemed to find better pressure after she tacked to edge into the lead, Groupama's progress not helped by a four storey high spectator boats to weather of her. Ian Walker's team was able to hang on to the finish by which time they had increased their lead over Groupama to 34 seconds.
Behind the race was not over yet. Tacking Code 0s is not quick business, the sail having to be furled and unfurled again on the new tack and at the very last minute approaching the finish line, Camper was holding third but low on the layline had two extra tacks to carry out as Puma was steaming up from behind. Unfortunately for the Kiwi team, they were unable to get up to speed again fast enough out of the tack and Ken Read’s team was able to slip by to take third off them by half a boat length.
“That was a cracking race,” winning skipper Ian Walker said afterwards. While the Abu Dhabi seem to lack pace in the offshores, this has been the third in-port race Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has won. “What was so pleasing about today’s race was that absolutely everyone played their part. We made a good start, we had good tactics all through, but the crew work with getting our Code 0 up faster than the rest of the fleet got us back in touch with Groupama and I think we were tacking better with that. Really it was the crew work that saw us through.”
Walker added that in Miami it has been one of the first occasions they have had an opportunity to get any training in for a while (having had none in Itajai as they were fixing their boat). “In the shorter races we can match the other boats and we have a team that believes in itself still. So we are not giving up, Abu Dhabi is still here and we want to win this in port series.”
Groupama skipper Franck Cammas was satisfied with their second place, even though they could have won. He was more pleased that overall race leader Telefonica finished sixth, allowing the gap between them to close to just seven points after what had been a complex race. As he explained: “There was a big gust coming just before the start - no forecast said that – nobody was with a good set up on board. Camper started with the J4, the very small jib, and the wind after the start was decreasing and we finished in very very light winds - so all the sail configurations were used on the boat. It was interesting for sure because there was a lot of crew work.”
As with the other skippers, Puma’s Ken Read praised his crew: “It was hard to come back, but fortunately the going got weird and ‘when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro’ to quote Hunter S Thompson. The boys bailed me out. We did really good sail changes. We used every sail on the boat apart from the J4 and around a track that short that is nearly impossible."
Chris Nicholson on Camper was pleased that his Emirates Team New Zealand crew had managed to maintain their composure, even though things had often not gone their way. “We were at once stage a deep sixth and we finished better than that. That doesn’t mean I am happy with how it went, but without that composure we might stil have been back there in sixth.
Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson said he was grateful to be back in the race. Of today’s In Port he said: “It didn’t go our way. We were up to second/third – we were a bit unlucky at the bottom mark. We ended up fifth, but it was a fun race and the guys sailed the boat really nicely and there is tough competition here. We are out of practice so I was really pleased with the guys.”
Telefonica’s Iker Martinez took some solace from the fact that they are still leading the Volvo Ocean Race and have a substantial offshore leg coming up tomorrow. “Not a good day, but that is finished. We are still leading and we will see what happens in the next leg. “We train a lot for the offshores. We didn’t spend as much time inshore training and that is what we are seeing now. We have to improve that a little bit and keep doing the offshores as we have been doing since the beginning.”
PORTMIAMI In-Port Race results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
2. Groupama sailing team, +00:33
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, +02:02
4. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, +02:11
5. Team Sanya, +2:35
6. Team Telefónica, +6:28
1. Telefonica 165
2. Groupama 158
3. Camper 152
4. Puma 151
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 74
6. Sanya 27
Photos below by Ian Roman (in the air) and Paul Todd (on the water)