Feb 29 2012
TORN HEADSAIL SLOWS CAMPER AS LEADERS APPROACH RECORD RUN
The fleet’s adrenaline fueled dash through the Pacific in winds up to 34 knots has seen some near record breaking performances but has also taken its toll on the boats with several teams reporting equipment damage.
Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand suffered the biggest breakdown last night when they tore their vital J2 headsail in two pieces after the line fixing it to the bow snapped under load.
The crew quickly got the flogging sail down below and hoisted a replacement but saw their speed slip from more than 20 knots to 17 and lost more than 60 nautical miles to Groupama while they carried out on board repairs.
Navigator Will Oxley said the operation to retrieve the massive sail required the entire crew but had gone off smoothly despite taking place in darkness.
“Every manoeuvre in these boats is a case of all hands on deck,” Oxley said. “When you’re close reaching like this going over 20 knots the seas are coming over the side are pretty brutal.
“You can’t steer without a helmet and you can’t look into the wind otherwise you quickly get blinded. If you imagine sticking your head out of a car window at 60 kilometres an hour into driving rain. That might give you an indication of what it’s like.”
“It took about 20 hours to get the sail back up. It was a massive task. They had to get it below, dry it, find where the rip was and come up with a plan for the repair.
“Then they had to join the two pieces together and lay cloth over the top of that, glue it and then stitch it. It was a very long procedure. Sometimes I’m not sure how they do it. The sail is so big and the boat is so small that putting it back together is very impressive.”
CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson confirmed the setback had been costly.
“On the last three position reports we have probably dropped six miles on average on each one. We just can’t afford to have many more of them,” he said.
Meanwhile, leg leaders Groupama sailing team, second placed PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and fifth-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, each racked up more than 500 nautical miles (nm) in 24 hours averaging speeds over 20 knots.
PUMA sailed 525 nautical miles at an average speed of 21.8 knots in a 24 period, approaching the current race record of 554 nautical miles set by CAMPER during the first leg.
Groupama were next best posting 520 nm at an average of 21.6 knots with fifth placed Abu Dhabi turning in a 511 nautical miles 24 hour run at an average of 21.3 knots.
“It feels good to be going fast, psychologically at least,” said PUMA MCM Amory Ross. “Sailing this way is fun, and it’s what everyone thinks about when they sign up to sail around the world.
Groupama watch captain Thomas Coville said the conditions were really aggressive for the crew and the driver in particular.
“It’s very wet on board,” Coville said. “We’re sailing 90 degrees from the wind and 90 degrees from the waves.
“We all have burning eyes at the moment from the salt. These conditions are for sure very extreme but it’s a lot of fun going 25 knots.”
At the 1300 UTC position report Groupama was more than 3,100 nm away from Auckland and held an almost 82 nm lead over PUMA with Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica a further 15 nm behind based on their relative distances to finish.
CAMPER had dropped to fourth ahead of fifth placed Abu Dhabi, the fastest boat in the fleet with an average speed of 22.2 knots.
Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya remained in sixth, almost 155 nm off the lead.
March 4, 2012
GROUPAMA EXTEND AFTER ISLAND SORTIE PUTS TELEFÓNICA BACK IN CONTENTION
A speedy passage through the Doldrums into south easterly trade winds by race leaders Groupama saw the French crew extend their advantage at the front of the fleet to almost 90 nautical miles (nm) over second placed PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG.
However, with over 1,500 nm of racing and an increasingly complex weather scenario ahead of them Franck Cammas’ crew are still very much feeling the heat from the chasing pack.
Groupama helmsman Damian Foxall said their Doldrums crossing had been brief but eventful as they picked their way carefully through, successfully dodging the wind holes which had scuppered them on the first and third legs.
“We had lots of squalls and clouds but no areas with no wind at all,” he said. “We avoided the lulls and made the most out of the gusts.”
Despite having stretched their lead Foxall said there was still nervousness on board, particularly about race leaders Team Telefónica who re-emerged as a potential threat after a fast run through the middle of the Solomon Islands.
“It was well done by Telefónica, they came back in to the match through the islands,’’ Foxall said. “They are back in the game.”
At 1300 UTC today Groupama were the fastest boat in the fleet sailing in solid trade wind conditions at an average of 16.3 knots -- more than two knots faster then anyone else.
On third placed Telefónica, despite being 142 nm adrift of Groupama, navigator Andrew Cape said he expected chances to open up on the way to New Zealand as the fleet faced a constantly evolving meteorological scenario.
“We still have opportunities,’’ he said. “The weather situation is very unclear. It’s six or seven days until we reach the top of New Zealand and the weather is changing rapidly.
“Outside of the three day forecast a lot of things can happen,” Cape said. “You can gain or lose, so you have to just keep on top of your game.
“We’re still going for the win. I think in three or four days time there will be loads of tricky conditions going on and anything can happen.”
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing navigator Jules Salter said Ian Walker’s fourth placed crew were happy to have maintained lateral separation with the boats in the west despite having lost miles when Telefónica, CAMPER and Team Sanya pulled off their successful Solomon Island sortie.
“If we were along side them (now) we wouldn’t be quite as fast as them. At least having this separation with them gives us a few options,” Salter said before re-affirming the Emirati team’s commitment to pull out a good leg result.
“We haven’t given up yet,” he said. “We’re still in the hunt. We won’t really know until the end. Even if you end up 40 miles behind the other boats, it’s so light heading into Auckland at the moment that there’s even potential in the last couple of hundred miles.”
Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says the fleet should enjoy consistent east-southeast trades of 10 to 15 knots in the Coral Sea before the winds freshen and turn southeast favouring Groupama and PUMA in the east.
The fleet should reach the island of New Caledonia by Monday afternoon, with latest predictions taking the fleet to the west of the 300 nm land mass.
From there the teams will have to sail against the wind to the finish in Auckland with the leaders expected to arrive on or around March 10.
March 8 2012
SLICK FRENCH TRANSITION SECURES SOLID LEAD ON APPROACH TO NEW ZEALAND
Groupama sailing team are a step closer to victory after a slick overnight transition from a light wind danger zone into fresh breezes all but locked-in their Leg 4 lead.
Skipper Franck Cammas led his team smoothly out of the South Pacific low-wind area with only minor delays to Groupama’s progress before crossing into a high pressure system at about 0000 UTC.
Reaching the new weather first has given the French team a jump on their competitors as the new weather system moves east, potentially leaving the trailing crews in decreasing winds.
Second placed Team Telefónica, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG in third and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand in fourth are not expected to get into the fresher south east winds before 1500 UTC today.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth and Team Sanya in sixth could both be set to make gains by sailing a more direct route to Cape Reinga on the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island.
Groupama watch captain Thomas Coville said the crew were exhausted from more than two and a half weeks of exposure to the elements, lack of sleep and the high level of concentration needed to fend off attacks from the fleet.
Coville said the team had been reinvigorated by the chance to claim their first offshore victory in the race but nevertheless remained vigilant with more than 450 nautical miles (nm) still to go.
“We’ve now found some wind, which is a much better sign for us,” he said after reaching the high pressure system. “We are thinking about the victory a little bit, but it’s far from over.
“We will live in the moment, each hour and each watch, and we’ll see at the end how that plays out. A race is only over once you have crossed the finish line,” Coville added.
The scrap for third place is heating up between PUMA and CAMPER with just 23 nm separating the pair at 1300 UTC after PUMA endured a second consecutive night of “raincloud induced agony” according to Media Crew Member (MCM) Amory Ross.
In a bid to gain some miles CAMPER navigator Will Oxley and skipper Chris Nicholson have opted for a more westerly course than PUMA and Telefónica.
Nicholson said he hoped his team would escape the clutches of the light wind area in better shape than PUMA as the runway to the finish shortens.
“Currently we are transitioning across a light section trying to break out of the north east trades and into the newly established south east breeze,’’ he said.
“PUMA have had a lot of leverage over us but it seems that it has been difficult for them to convert that into miles. Hopefully we will be within sight of each other once we get into new breeze, then it’s game on.”
Overnight Abu Dhabi and Team Sanya made gains on the top four while reaching towards the transition zone at average speeds over 16 knots.
But at 0900 UTC today Abu Dhabi’s bowman Wade Morgan said speeds were dropping as they began to feel the effects of the lighter winds.
“We’ve just put up a bigger sail, our code zero,” the Australian said. “Right now we’ve got about 11 knots of breeze, it’s slowly dropping. We expect it to get quite light, to about seven knots.’’
On the upside, Morgan said Abu Dhabi may be able to use any mistakes by the boats ahead to their benefit.
“We get a good idea on where they are and we can watch their wind, so we can kind of gauge where we think the thinnest part of that trough can be,’’ he said.
“Ian (Walker, skipper) and Jules (Salter, navigator) are looking at it all the time to line up what is the best way through it and hopefully we will not stop -- that’s the goal.”
Leg leaders Groupama are expected to reach New Zealand’s North Cape on Friday at about 1200 UTC, with Telefónica, PUMA and CAMPER forecast to get there around six to eight hours later.
The fleet then face a 190 nm stint to the finish at Auckland, where Groupama are predicted to arrive around 0900 UTC on March 10.
March 9, 2012
GROUPAMA RIDES HIGHWAY TO VICTORY
Groupama 4 led the fleet around Cape Reinga at 1754 UTC today and is now on the home strait with just 176 nautical miles remaining. The final stretch includes a beat down to Cape Brett, where the French team will crack sheets and power reach towards the finish of what has been an epic leg from Sanya to Auckland.
With victory all but secured for Franck Cammas’ team, the battle for second has intensified. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand tacked onto starboard at 1640 UTC, in a bid to cross ahead of PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and Team Telefónica, who were on a perfect lay line for the cape.
Just before 1900 UTC CAMPER tacked back again and dropped 18 nm and two places to fourth. The team is now 11 nm to leeward of Telefónica, while PUMA is 2.78 nm to windward. It is possible that all three, who are only five nm apart, will have to tack again to clear the cape. Groupama is half way across Great Exhibition Bay and preparing to make their decent towards the Hauraki Gulf.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), who are 40 nm behind CAMPER, lead Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) by 20 nm. Both teams are sailing the same course as PUMA and Telefónica towards Cape Reinga.
Groupama 4 are expected to cross the finish at around 1100 UTC tomorrow, March 10, with the next boat tipped to finish at around 0100 UTC March 11. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya are expected two hours later.
March 11 2012
PUMA CLINCH SECOND PLACE IN LEG 4 OF VOLVO OCEAN RACE 2011-12 AFTER MIGHTY THREE-WAY TUSSLE
Auckland, New Zealand – Twelve hours after Groupama sailing team won Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG won an epic battle for second place, clinching the runner's up spot on a rainy morning in Auckland to complete a memorable comeback and secure their first offshore podium place in 2011-12.
Team Telefónica followed them in just under 50 minutes later for third after holding off CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand in a scrap that continued gybe-for-gybe all the way to the finish line.
Just around 93 seconds separated Telefónica, winners of the first three legs, and CAMPER -- a tiny margin after a leg that took the teams over 5,220 nautical miles from Sanya in China to the sailing-mad city of Auckland in New Zealand.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing came in just under 34 minutes later for fifth, with Team Sanya the sixth boat in just over 35 minutes after that.
Thousands of fans jammed into spectator craft to welcome the boats in and thousands more packed Auckland Viaduct Harbour after a drag race through the churning water completed a fantastic set of arrivals to mark the race's return to the city after a gap of 10 years.
"My God, I feel good to be in Auckland," said PUMA's American skipper Ken Read after the team had received a traditional Maori welcome into the harbour.
"From day one of this leg, ever since we sailed into the South China Sea, it's been tough. I know that's what we signed up for but man this was a challenging leg. This result is something we can build on. We just wish we had a couple more weeks to hang around in Auckland."
While Groupama sailing team were making a triumphant entry into the City of Sails on Saturday night, PUMA were nursing a slim advantage over the pack, with just 40 nautical miles separating the five boats as a tense, tactical race for the best way to play the currents and to avoid wind holes raged through the night.
PUMA managed to protect their lead, coming in at 10:33:47 UTC for a total elapsed time of 20 days 3 hours 57 minutes in Leg 4, nearly three full weeks of sailing.
Telefónica now lead the overall standings with 121 points despite losing their perfect record offshore. Groupama have 103 points and take over second place from CAMPER, now back in third on 98, with PUMA fourth on 78.
The next racing will happen Saturday, March 17 with Auckland’s In-Port Race and the Leg 5 start on Sunday, March 18.
Sunday's result confirms that PUMA are back in business after the broken mast that saw them forced to retire from Leg 1, and gave them little time to prepare for Leg 2. Second place into Auckland marks their first podium finish in an offshore leg and it came courtesy of a terrific comeback.
They started the leg with a 39 minute deficit after being hit by a windless patch while leading on Stage 1 and watching the fleet sail past them. It looked like ill luck was set to stay with them as they were forced on a more and more northerly course.
Their strategy worked, bringing them back in touch with the fleet after days of ever more lonely sailing towards Japan, before Groupama took control in a strong easterly position on day seven.
CAMPER hopes of challenging for the lead suffered a devastating blow when they tore their vital J2 headsail, losing 60 miles to Groupama in the process, and it became increasingly clear that this was all about the race for second.
The three boats behind Groupama stayed neck and neck all the way through to the finish.