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A smile that never hides

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It is clear that this is not your usual first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. In fact, Stu Bannatyne (NZL) co-skipper of CAMPER says, “The traditional first half of the first leg of this race is nothing like we are experiencing now.” Having done this race five times previously, Bannatyne would have a good idea of what ‘normal’ is, and it seems that the weather the fleet is contending with is anything but.

Out in the west it has been straight line sailing for new leader Telefónica (Iker Martinez/ESP, PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) in second and fourth-placed CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) who all continue to slog upwind, often without tacking for hours on end.

However, a change in direction will come when this westerly group nears the island of Madeira, some 92 nautical miles ahead. A frontal system is approaching which will bring about a wind shift, so all gear is ready for the tack and the crews are waiting for the signs. Once through this system this group will begin their turn south and enjoy some beam reaching towards the Doldrums, but this, the best type of sailing is still a tantalising 36 hours away at least.

Although the westerly choice still seems favourable, the rock-hopping along the coast had pushed Groupama 4 and Franck Cammas’ team into the lead earlier this morning, but at 1000 UTC today they had slipped back to third place losing 17 nm, largely through having to sail dead downwind in light airs.

Tomorrow Groupama 4 should pass through the corridor between Lanzarote and Western Sahara where winds will build. They are now over 300 miles to east of the rest of the fleet and 42 nautical miles offshore. Although the French crew describes their position as the ‘highway to hell’, they also say: “With Morocco just under our eyes, we really feel like this is the start of a round the world trip… A lonely one, and one that really wasn’t planned.” Speaking to Race Headquarters this morning, PUMA’s Ken Read said he was surprised by Cammas’ choice and would not want to swap places.

No one likes not being in the lead and on board CAMPER the crew has been left with a bitter taste after sacrificing considerable miles to edge west yesterday. They are now 60 nm behind Telefónica and have lost another 16 nm in the last three hours. A steely determination prevails among the crew who wait anxiously for the results of each position report every three hours. When the update arrives, good or bad news is met with barely a word; it is just about clawing back the lost miles and getting back into the game. The crew reports: “Everyone is still smiling and all still giving each other grief purely for the entertainment of everyone around them!”