“We have been locked in a three way battle to leave the Doldrums and enter the trades,” explained CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson. “PUMA, Telefónica and ourselves are virtually lined up across 15 miles of ocean, racing to get into the trades first and benefit from a small jump on the other two boats.”
The leading three have made a relatively painless transition through the Doldrums, but without the anticipated priceless jump to which Nicholson referred. In the period 0400 to 0700 GMT, CAMPER had dropped just 1.20 nm and Telefónica two miles, much less of a bonus for leading team PUMA, who were hoping to rebuild their leading margin. Although not clinging to PUMA’s coat tails, both CAMPER and Telefónica have kept a tight lateral separation and exited the Doldrums at the same time. They are now engaging in a battle, which will be about boat speed alone.
Meanwhile, fifth-placed Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA), who have struggled throughout Leg 6, entered the Doldrums at back of the fleet, a new experience for the French team.
“It is obviously a mental battle when for the first half of the leg you are behind so much, but as a team we have been keeping strong and on deck we have been motivated. We realise that there are still a lot of chances as we head up through the Caribbean,” said bowman Brad Marsh.
As the leaders compressed, both Groupama and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) were able to knock miles of their deficit. Added to the pleasure of being closer to the leading pack, Groupama also has Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to spar with. Both boats are now inside 100 nm from PUMA; Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 90.9 nm in deficit, followed by Groupama four miles astern.
Now, as the leaders race in the steady northeast trade winds, with boat speeds in the 20s, it will be a quick passage up to the Windward Islands. However, as they approach the Caribbean string, the wind will shift slightly to the southeast, pushing the fleet to the east and banishing any opportunities of sailing between the islands.