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Volvo Ocean Race: Trimming, Stacking and Studying

25/01/2012
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At 1000 UTC today, PUMA’S Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) continued her spell at the top of the leg leaderboard from the hard-pushing team on CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) who are three nautical miles (nm) behind, to lead the six-boat Volvo Ocean Race fleet towards Pulau We, the waypoint that marks the entrance to the Malacca Strait.

With just 463 nautical miles to go before an anticipated ‘restart’ at the entrance of the Malacca Strait, the stretch of water separating Sumatra and Singapore, the small gains made over the next two days will be significant, not least in psychological terms, when the fleet enters the second part of this leg in trying conditions.

Gains and losses here will not just be about the weather. A narrow channel packed with shipping, ocean debris and the ever-present small craft, often unlit and fishing with long lines at night, the Strait presents traps and hazards that can see a lead built up over days evaporate in hours.

“The game is about intricacies," says Nicholson. Minute changes in direction will have important consequences once the fleet reaches Pulau We. “This is really going to be a game of inches,” remarks CAMPER’s navigator, Will Oxley.

What might look like easy straight-line sailing is in fact an action-packed time for the six teams, who are constantly trimming, stacking and studying the weather, as well as each other’s performance, in order to make a small gain. “If shifting the stack like that means we gain a mere metre, then it’s definitely a worthwhile exercise,” Nicholson says.

In third, just over six nm on the port hip of PUMA's Mar Mostro, the crew of Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) is switching between close hauled and tight reaching, with both the leaders in vision, keeping the crew fully motivated.

The crew of the most windward boat in the fleet, Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), 14 nm to windward of the fleet and in fourth place, is still recovering from the damage to their code zero and deck fitting suffered hours after the start. The team now have the sail hoisted and are working hard to make good the losses and catch the leaders.

“I think getting around the top of Sumatra and into the Malacca Strait is going to be a very tricky moment for the race and I think there will be some places to gain and lose there," said watch leader Neal McDonald (GBR) in a radio link today. “We seem to be going very well other than that setback which was a disaster really that the guys recovered well from. It cost us a lot and it put us on the back foot really."

The crew of sixth-placed Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) consider the Malacca Strait to be their big opportunity on this leg to their homeport in China. Lacking the speed of the newly constructed Volvo Open 70s, Sanderson will try to use the fluky breeze and other hazards to his best advantage.

“We are preparing for sleepless nights on board in the hope that we can take an opportunity to slip past some of the fleet,” wrote MCM Andrés Soriano today.

Meanwhile, as the fleet ploughs on, conditions on board are stifling, both on deck and below. Sleep is near to impossible in the sauna created not only by the scorching sun, but also by the generator used to create power on board, usually run at night when it is marginally cooler. Morale, however, across the fleet remains high in anticipation of exciting times ahead.

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