As one by one the boats disappear into the anti-piracy stealth zone, the skippers and navigators have been finalising their Doldrums strategies.
“They are pretty well ahead so they may be OK, but we are absolutely gunning to win this leg” Andrew Cape - Navigator, Team Telefónica
Leg leaders Groupama sailing team had entered the zone with a lead of 76 nautical miles over second-placed PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, who followed them into the stealth zone on Thursday afternoon.
The chasing pack have been pinning their faith on the transient Doldrums band for an opportunity to reel Groupama back in and as expected the fleet began to compress on Thursday with the two leaders feeling the first effects of the light wind zone.
On PUMA, Media Crew Member Amory Ross said Ken Read’s team were poised to pounce on any slip by the leaders but were also conscious of the threat from behind.
“Groupama have finally fallen back to Earth, about 75 miles off our bow now, and just in time,” he said. “We know if we’re going to have a chance at catching them we need to close the gap before the light air lottery ahead; otherwise they’re unreachable.
“CAMPER and Telefónica keep sailing fast to leeward and we’re doing everything we can to stay in front, but there’s little difference to be found in our speeds.
“Everyone’s worked hard to get here and it’s tough imagining that in 24 hours the fleet might turn inside out. That’s a sign of good racing though, and we’re all up to the task.”
On board third-placed Telefónica who entered the stealth zone this evening, navigator Andrew Cape said he thought Groupama’s lead would make it difficult for them to be caught, but reaffirmed the team’s determination to chase them down to the safe haven port.
“They are pretty well ahead so they may be OK, but we are absolutely gunning to win this leg,” he said. “The Doldrums is looking far from straightforward so there could be a park-up and who knows what might come out of that.”
On board fourth-placed CAMPER, co-skipper Stuart Bannatyne was equally optimistic about the opportunity to catch the top three boats.
“It’s been a bit of a drag race for a while,” he said. “We are absolutely looking at the approach to, crossing of and exit from the Doldrums as a chance to take back miles from the leaders.
“We are pushing very hard and doing our utmost to get every 10th of a knot out of the boat. We will all be doing our best to escape the evil rainclouds and find the good ones to help us on our way.”
Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing continued to trail the fleet but Britain’s double Olympic silver medallist said he still hoped to get back into contention.
“We will have a window of several hours after the other boats enter the Doldrums to track their progress and adjust our approach accordingly,” he said.
“Pretty soon Groupama will be doing half our speed and we will come hauling into the back of them. But it’s not just about catching up, you need to get level or ahead otherwise they will just pull away when they get through.”
As the fleet continued northwards the boats continued to compress, but if Groupama have their timing right they may be able to escape an easterly moving low pressure wave. If the boats behind them are forced into a time consuming detour, there will be no stopping the French.
By 1900 UTC tonight Groupama 4 were tending to the west, with second-placed PUMA heading east and crossing Groupama’s tracks.
Telefónica meanwhile also seemd intent on shooting through to the east, while Ian Walker and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were still formulating their plans, 187.5 nautical miles behind the leading boat.
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- 24 Dec 2011Nicholson's three wise men shepherd CAMPER into the lead
- 21 Dec 2011Groupama position for Doldrums crossing