Team spirit is hailed by Telefonica skipper Martinez
ABU DHABI // As with any who sail on newly built, supersonic boats, elite Volvo Ocean Race sailors learned much yesterday on a 98-nautical-mile sprint through the Arabian Gulf from Sharjah into Abu Dhabi.
During Stage 2 of Leg 2 of the nine-leg round the world race, they learned the French entry, Groupama, has some serious mustard when reaching, as demonstrated when it edged out race-leading Telefonica nine miles from home to capture the segment, and its six points.
They learned Telefonica still qualifies as the early-stage happy boat anyway; they learned the Spanish-and-New Zealand entry Camper still represents a threat; they learned Puma's Mar Mostro seems rapidly recovered from its broken-mast odyssey; and they learned Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing still seek the secret.
As Abu Dhabi celebrated the boats arriving at the third port of the 10-port race - and the first Middle East stopover in the 38-year history of the race - with a stirring ceremony with skippers in ghutras, Telefonica edged to shore first. It won the two-part leg because it finished second yesterday (five points) after finishing first (24 points) in Stage 1, which went from Cape Town to an undisclosed port.
The blue Spanish blazer holds the overall lead with 66 points. Camper finished third yesterday and second in the leg to reach 58, while Groupama stands at 42; Puma at 28; Abu Dhabi at 19 after fifth-place finishes in both Leg 2 stages; and Team Sanya on four after they could not participate yesterday because it stopped in Madagascar for rigging repairs.
Franck Cammas, the Groupama skipper, called it "very good for our confidence" after a fourth-place finish in Stage 1, and in his fractious but commendable English expressed a hankering for "the heavy wind and the reaching wind as well". He said: "We know we are fast in this condition. Not just wind, but reaching."
Ken Read, the Puma skipper, said the "last little bit showed that Groupama is moded much differently than our boat", better in the heavier wind, while Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi skipper, thought Groupama, whose singular strategies in early legs yielded mixed results, "has clearly got something in the set-up that's especially good reaching".
A less dramatic revelation concerned Telefonica. It remains fast. After starting slowly and finishing last in the first in-port race on October 29 in Alicante, Spain, and after lagging in last early out of Cape Town, Telefonica has won Leg 1 to Cape Town for 30 points, won the Cape Town in-port race for six and won Leg 2 overall for 29.
Everything around it feels happy, save for the brief wail from the skipper Iker Martinez's young son when the confetti cannons gave him a scare as Team Telefonica stood before the audience greeting the crews at the Abu Dhabi Destination Village.
"I think the whole package is working very well," Martinez said. "I think the most important thing is the team. We all know what the boat likes. We know how to use and respect the boat … A very high level of performance on the boat. Obviously, all the little things. The boat is going really well so obviously the preparation was good."
He said: "I think our crew is a real team. We know each other very well. Everyone knows each other and there's a lot of respect one to the other. In the beginning it was pretty hard for us, we were not very good, but everyone was pushing very hard, everyone was smiling."
As an early theme at the top of the table, Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand have been chasing around - or getting chased down - by Telefonica, but have remained more than viable.
After its third-place finish yesterday gave it second in the leg and second overall, Chris Nicholson, the skipper, said: "You look at how easy it is to have a bad race. They [Telefonica] were sixth in the first in-port race. Cape Town, they had a very bad start. So it's easily possible for any teams to have bad legs so we just want to keep that at bay for as long as we can."
Said Nicholson, "I think we're sailing the boat quite well and it is possible to try too hard and sail yourselves out so we've just got to be very careful how we approach it."
Even as Abu Dhabi came last of the five, its arrival in early darkness did not lack for fanfare, with fireworks, UAE-coloured scarves around sailors' necks and Adil Khalid, the event's first-ever Emirati sailor, doused by teammates in date champagne.
"A dream," a soaked Khalid called it, while Jamie Boag, the team director, said the team aimed "onward and upward" after the early hardships of a broken mast in Leg 1 and an impolite cold front in Leg 2.
"Coming here," Boag said, "is a big milestone for us."