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Volvo Ocean Race: Gunning for glory at cape horn

29/03/2012
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With barely more than a day before the cigars can be broken out when Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) reach Cape Horn, the race is back on again. Thoughts of survival mode have been put aside as PUMA begin to make their presence felt and Groupama answer.

The sea state for the leading pair has improved, and both teams are piling on the pressure, reverting back to a full-on racing set up as they enter a phase more reminiscent of a race. They will approach the Cape in downwind conditions requiring several gybes, which will introduce a tactical element not seen for the past eight or more days.

According to Groupama’s helmsman/trimmer Thomas Coville, there is a psychological game at stake as Groupama play ‘poker’ with PUMA for first and second places. The team is monitoring and analysing the positions, headings and speeds from the three-hourly position reports.

“We can feel the pressure of PUMA, who needs not to lose us before Cape Horn, and possibly to come back,” Coville said. “We have to show we can be faster.

“Until now, in the south, we followed our rhythm and sailed our own race. Today we are arriving near the Horn and we are collecting the fruits of what we have done over the past 10 days, with all the relative tiredness.”

However, Groupama and PUMA are still in the Southern Ocean and it is necessary to keep the foot hovering over the brake pedal, just in case. There is a front coming in from the north, but before it arrives, there will be a band of lighter air, which will throw in some tactical decisions.

“It’s about how you deal with the light and then what you do with the new stuff,” PUMA’s skipper Ken Read said in a call to race headquarters earlier today. A pleasant 15-knot downwind sail around Cape Horn would be nice, but according to Read, it doesn’t look likely. The low will reach PUMA around 250 nm from the Horn and with it will come a howling Southern Ocean gale to give the fleet a final pasting.

“Makes for an exciting last little bit, seeing as it will be VMG downwind sailing with a few gybes thrown in… in about 40 knots of wind. Like everything so far in this race, it’s been about facing adversity and dealing with it - that’s all we can do,” Read said.

Further back in third place and now 385.8 nm off the lead, Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) are sailing as fast as they dare, but could of course go faster had they not been nursing damage incurred earlier. The crew has made a temporary repair which they are confident will hold until the boat arrives in the Argentine port of Ushuaia after rounding Cape Horn.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), the fourth boat still racing towards Cape Horn, have had a big night, although their delta is still 1425 nm. A new top speed was set for the team when Rob Greenhalgh clocked a boat speed of 41.5 knots, Ian Walker was knocked off the wheel during a huge surf and the ‘piece de resistance’ was a crash tack.

“The wind instruments had blown off the top of the mast and the numbers that Anthony Nossiter was steering to in the pitch black went haywire.

“My last words to him before he started helming were, ‘whatever you do, don’t Chinese gybe in to windward’. He took me to my word and as the numbers indicated he was going to crash gybe, he steered hard up to weather. The net result was an inadvertent tack and ensuing capsize,” reported the skipper.

The boat was pinned on her side as the mainsail was hard against the runners and the keel was canted the wrong way, but according to Walker, the whole episode was remarkably peaceful. “Once we got some boys on deck, we managed to tack the runners, centre the keel, back down and get sailing again,” he said. After checking the boat over, they were off again after a very lucky escape.

Still racing, but headed for a pit stop in Chile, the crew of CAMPER are trying to find new ways to fend off the inevitable boredom associated with nursing the boat. With less than 1500 nm to run before they are reunited with their shore team who will manage the repair work, the crew has survived some windy conditions and are in good spirits.