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Volvo Ocean Race: PUMA lead as teams seek miles from millimetres

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PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG were clinging to a narrow lead at the head of a compressed Volvo Ocean Race fleet on Monday as their closest rivals on board CAMPER looked to exchange millimetres for miles with precision tuning.

At 1300 UTC on day two of the second stage of Leg 3 to Sanya, there were just 10 nautical miles separating PUMA’s Mar Mostro at the front and last placed Team Sanya. Just over one mile stood between CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and first place.

Groupama sailing team were one nautical mile shy of CAMPER in third place on the 3,051nm stage from the Maldives to China, with Team Telefónica fourth, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth and Team Sanya sixth.

CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said his team were making tiny tweaks to their dagger boards, water ballast tanks, sheeting angles and weight distribution below deck in a bid to gain speed.

“We’re actually just subtly changing all of those things as the wind speed increases,’’ the Australian Olympian said. “It’s all the kind of things you do in a dinghy, only on a larger scale.

“They are millimetre changes. We need to adjust things enough to see a difference, and then look at the instruments and go by feel as to whether it’s good or bad. In the last six hours even I’m pretty pleased that we’ve made some inroads.’’

PUMA skipper Ken Read reckons it was his team’s early move to the north of the course that was paying dividends, but he wasn’t taking his lead for granted.

“Everyone is spread out and there appears to be very little speed difference between the fleet at this point,’’ he said.

“Seeing what we see right now, this race will restart about 10 times in the Malacca Strait, a notoriously fickle place to sail. Things look good now, but it’ is early days. There is a lot to come our way on this leg, that is for sure.’’

The fleet’s speed was slowly increasing on Monday as they escaped the 200 nautical mile wind shadow cast by Sri Lanka and revelled in freshening monsoon winds that will tend north-northeast in the next 24-hours.

Volvo Ocean Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said the wind would build to 15 to 20 knots as it clocked left and pack plenty of squalls. “The conditions will be more favourable for the boats further north,’’ he said.

The forecast is less than ideal for Team Sanya who have opted for a more southern route as they struggle to keep pace with the third generation Volvo Open 70s in their second-hand boat.

Skipper Mike Sanderson said he had no choice but to dive further from the rhumb line in a bid to cling to the leading pack.

“We’re trying to match the speed of the others as much as we can,’’ the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper said. “That means we have to put the bow down a little further and roll the dice that we’ll get lifted later on.

“We’re not below course so the risk is very low. It’s more just a matter of us trying to match the speed of the new boats. We know anytime it’s a drag race with no tactical options we’re going to suffer, but we’ve just got to hang on and wait for our next opportunity."

Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker admitted that even his team were having trouble keeping up with the fleet, despite coming in on winning form having won the fist stage of Leg 3 and the Etihad Airways In-Port Race.

“Right now it is a drag race across the southern tip of Sri Lanka with every boat sailing within one or two degrees of each other and nobody having yet tacked,’’ he said.

“Sadly, it is a drag race which we are struggling to compete in. We are trying every possible trim or sail configuration to try and match the boats around us but we are yet to find fifth gear.”

Team Telefónica are continuing to claw back the miles they lost in the opening hours of the race when a fitting on their code zero broke. Sail coordinator Jordi Calafat said repairing the 500 square metres of sail below deck was a difficult and hot task that required hand stitching.

“To fix the sail was very easy, the worst bit was getting the sail down below,’’ he said.  “It’s one of the heaviest and biggest sails. The damage was to one of the corners of the sail so we stitched it by hand. We put a new plate in and off we go.

“I think the repair will hold, fingers crossed it won’t be a problem. Everything else is fine, and we’re back at full speed. At the moment we’re overtaking Abu Dhabi – it’s all good.”

While the first night of racing is over the teams still have more than 2700 nautical miles and many challenges to overcome until their expected finish at China in early February.

Eighty percent of the points for Leg 3 are up for grabs on stage two, except in the case of Team Sanya. They will score full points for this second stage after being unable to compete with the fleet in the first stage.

Last modified on Thursday, 12 April 2012 14:18