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Volvo Ocean Race: Groupama lead as Camper throttle back to make repairs

25/03/2012
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Four of the five boats racing in Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race are around 500 nautical miles (nm) shy of the halfway point from New Zealand to Cape Horn. As the barometer continues to drop, conditions are deteriorating and the fleet is reporting wind speeds of 35 to 45 knots with breaking waves of 10 metres. Overnight, Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) slipped past CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand while Chris Nicholson and his men slowed right down to make repairs to their forward bulkhead.

CAMPER reported that bow damage had been sustained after falling heavily off a wave and delaminating a forward structural beam.

Skipper Nicholson said: “The boat is in no immediate danger and the crew is fine, but with the bow now flexing and the weight of wind we cannot push on as fast as we would like. We are starting on repairs that will allow us to get going as fast as is practical.”

In an interview with New Zealand’s Peter Montgomery, CAMPER’s navigator Will Oxley had earlier explained that the team had had to carry out significant repairs to the forward bulkhead, which had cracked earlier during the leg.

“We have cut half the bulkhead out and re-laminated it. There has been jigsaw, grinders and lots of noises you don’t expect to hear in the middle of the ocean up in the bow of the boat. We are now waiting for about an hour for it to cure and then we hope it will be strong enough and we will be good to go.”

It has been a testing time for the crew as the helmsmen tried not to drop CAMPER off a big wave while below Rob Salthouse and Mike Pammenter were using a jigsaw or grinder, a situation where it would have been easy to saw off a hand instead.
“It is the high speed slams when it feels like the boat has just dropped off a two-story building, which have contributed to the damage,” Oxley said.

Meanwhile, onboard Groupama 4, helmsman/trimmer Laurent Pages said the amount of water coming over the deck was making it impossible to see the mast displays, which show vital information including heading, wind speed and direction.

“Because of the water and the helmets we wear, we can’t really see a thing," he said. "At some point it's as if we are closing our eyes... You have to follow the feeling you have for the boat – the angle of heel, acceleration, longitudinal trim.”

He added that that it is difficult to steer for more than an hour at a time. The helmsman is hooked tightly to the wheel to avoid being washed away by a wave breaking over the boat, shoulders and muscles are aching and one little mistake in concentration can lead to a much bigger problem.

Andrew Cape, navigator with second-placed Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) said, “There’s not much at all between us and Groupama, but there are so many things in the way here, it’s a real minefield of dangers so anything can happen out here, and we will be ready when it does.”

Away from the muck and bullets of the front line, Ian Walker and his crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are trapped in a high-pressure ridge where the wind will stay light for at least another two days. “Not exactly the Southern Ocean at its best, but you have to be careful what you wish for down here – I suspect the fleet are complaining of too much wind right now and wishing for a light spot,” the skipper said.

“It is increasingly clear that, given the forecast, we will be at least two or three days behind the leaders at Cape Horn, and there is nothing we can do about it,” Walker added.

At 1000 UTC today, Groupama led Telefónica by 14.3 nautical miles, with PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) in third (+41.4 nm) and CAMPER in fourth (+50.4 nm). Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were 617.7 adrift and Team Sanya were headed back to Tauranga in New Zealand where they will assess the damage caused on Thursday.

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