x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Volvo Ocean Race teams shore up against accidents

Camper take lead and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing regret opting for speed over position.

Telefonica crew members, from left, Jordi Calafat, skipper Iker Martinez and Neal McDonald, get in the festive spirit in the sun and spray.
Telefonica crew members, from left, Jordi Calafat, skipper Iker Martinez and Neal McDonald, get in the festive spirit in the sun and spray.

While the boats continued to battle it out on the water, the shore crews for the Volvo Ocean Race teams worked side-by-side on Christmas Eve to prepare the cradles that will transport the racing yachts to UAE.

Workers from all five of the teams remaining in the second leg of the race - Team Sanya pulled out with a broken rig - worked on each boat's cradle before moving on to the next.

To safeguard against piracy in the Indian Ocean, the boats will soon be loaded on to a ship and taken to the northern coast of the UAE. From there they will continue the race to Abu Dhabi.

"The teams all know they're in this together," said race director Jack Lloyd, who supervised some of the labour yesterday.

"Not one of them can survive by themselves on this stage of the race but they're working together really well to prepare things for the boats' arrival."

The shore teams are working against time as they deal with the logistical headache of safely hoisting the 15-ton yachts on to the transport ship.

"Nobody has ever loaded a Volvo Open 70, with their rigging and mast, in on to a ship before," Lloyd said. "There's potential for massive problems.

"A big wave or strong breeze could rock the boats as they are put on to the ship. They could be damaged in a heartbeat. It's quite some challenge."

Lloyd and his team also inspected the location of the finishing point for the first part of the Cape Town to Abu Dhabi leg, which is being kept secret to lesson the risk of a pirate attack. They also checked out the barge that will be used to hold the cradles and boats before they are moved on to the ship.

On the water, Camper/Emirates Team New Zealand moved to the front of the fleet yesterday thanks to some very clever sailing through the "doldrums". But skipper Chris Nicholson said it is far too early to celebrate.

"There's an awful lot more to play out in this race," he said as Camper turned their focus to out-and-out speed.

"We've just broken into a westerly breeze system so we have to wait until the next [schedule] when the other boats have broken in, too.

"Groupama will have a bit of leverage over us, which is a little uncomfortable; it means they can drop the bow down and potentially go quicker, so we'll have to monitor that. We also have to keep an eye on Telefonica."

Camper had entered the doldrums - a dynamic band of unpredictable weather south of the equator - in fourth place behind Groupama, Team Telefonica and Puma Ocean Racing. But after some lengthy debate around the navigation table between Nicholson, co-skipper Stu Bannatyne, navigator Will Oxley and co-navigator Andy McLean, a plan was formed.

By yesterday morning it had paid off with Camper out in front by 20 nautical miles.

"Will and Animal [Andy McLean] had a good plan from the get-go in the last few days and we've been able to deliver on that plan up on deck," Nicholson said.

"It's been really pleasing to see the work that Will and Animal put in and the way we went about making the decisions. It's quite a good feeling."

Nicholson said Camper must now prove themselves in the fast reaching conditions which await them.

"We haven't been fast reaching so far on this leg so we've got to dig our feet in and sail the boat how we want to sail it rather than get dictated to like we probably were before," he said.

"We're quite resolute to make sure we do a good job reaching across here.

"It's not just a case of trying to get to the finish in first place, it's part of saying to ourselves that we can match it on this type of angle and breeze."

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team continued to trail the fleet. After catching up more than 150 nautical miles on the fleet in the past few days, they were regretting their decision to take speed over position in the run-up to the doldrums.

"In hindsight we should have sacrificed some speed on our approach and gone tighter to the breeze," media crew member Nick Dana wrote.

"Though we would have lost the big number gains in the beginning, our set-up for a speedy doldrums crossing would have been more realistic."

Navigator Jules Salter added: "You can never see what you have missed in the doldrums until it's too late."