x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Back to square one before Leg 2 of Volvo Ocean Race

It is time for the Volvo Ocean Racing yachts to get to know each other again. Specifically, after practising, repairing and resting since arriving at the Cape Town stop, the In-Port Race on Saturday means the start of the next leg, to Abu Dhabi, is right around the corner.

The boats of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will once again test each other when the In-Port Race takes place at Cape Town.
The boats of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will once again test each other when the In-Port Race takes place at Cape Town.

CAPE TOWN // Six boats that figured to be intimate rivals by now will compete Saturday as near-strangers.

"Everybody was expecting this ball of six boats to travel around the world together," said Ken Read, the Puma skipper, "and quite frankly, we know nothing."

They know nothing because Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race, from the Spanish Mediterranean coast to Cape Town, half-collapsed.

Three boats retired and the other three varied their routes and arrived at staggered times.

That makes the second In-Port Race, starting Saturday at 3pm (5pm UAE time), rife with doubt.

"I think we're in good shape," said skipper Ian Walker, whose Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yacht Azzam had its mast break shockingly on November 5, the first night at sea.

"We made some pretty bold decisions after the mishap."

Those included a comprehensive redesign of rigging and "a reasonable amount of risk", Walker said.

Given that and four days of preparations, including a "thoroughly enjoyable" Friday, he said, "I don't think we could have hoped to be in better position from where we were three or four weeks ago."

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing won the first In-Port Race in Alicante, Spain, on October 29. There it gained the lead with six points, where it remains - now in fourth place - after getting zero points from Leg 1.

The Spanish entry, Telefonica, finished last that day but won Leg 1 for 30 points to reach a front-running 31. The In-Port Races award points on a 6-5-4-3-2-1 basis, and with the second-place. Emirates Team New Zealand's Camper, holding 29 points, leadership could shift by this late afternoon.

Confidence could shift even more given the three boats that beat a demanding clock on repairs.

Read, whose Puma entry broke a mast on November 21 and wound up marooned on the world's most remote inhabited island, Tristan da Cunha, said, "We're a little relieved that the forecast for tomorrow isn't really, really windy," a change from previous forecasts. That is because he and crew have been out in Table Bay doing things they normally would be doing months before a race, tuning their backup mast.

"If I ever have a more amazing leg, shoot me," Read said. "Ian was much smarter than us: If you're going to break your mast, do it within eyesight of the opening port."

Sixth-place Team Sanya, meanwhile, would exhale with merely getting to the Leg 2 start here on Sunday.

Skipper Mike Sanderson reported "a couple of pretty sleepless nights" and said, "Our boat only came off the ship last Wednesday. To get it sailing [Thursday] was unbelievable, really."

The Telefonica skipper, Iker Martinez, shared the disbelief, having seen the rebuilt Sanya with its new chunk for its stricken hull.

"I'm very inspired, especially how the guys who have their problems, how they react to this," Martinez said. "I couldn't believe yesterday when I saw [Sanya] sailing after I saw what happened to the boat. I really couldn't believe. It was like something magic happened."

In all the talk of old woes and new starts, Read said Puma had learnt its mast broke because of "a small stainless-steel piece" in the D-1 diagonal of the rigging, which "was actually made out of the wrong material."

Even so, Puma did flirt with Telefonica for 16 days, the kind of tightness long forecast for this race.

"It was pretty amazing, how close we were," Martinez said.

He thought it boded well for the remainder of the race, at this juncture of strangers, he said, "The only thing we know today is that at least with Puma we're very close."


UAE TV: Cape Town in-port race, 5pm, OSN Sports 1


@ For more on the VOLVO OCEAN RACE, visit thenational.ae