Fireworks go off in the city of Lisbon, as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK, finish first on leg 7, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by Paul Todd/ Volvo Ocean Race)

Fireworks go off in the city of Lisbon, as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK, finish first on leg 7, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by Paul Todd/ Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi shrugged off seven months of frustration to seal their first offshore victory in a nerve-jarring transatlantic leg from Miami to Lisbon, while Groupama’s second place finish — five and a half minutes behind after more than 3,500 nautical miles racing — was enough to take them top of the leaderboard in place of long-term leaders Telefonica.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Groupama spent days snapping at the heels of the Emirati team and were within a mile of their rivals as they headed up the River Tagus towards the finish line.

Ian Walker’s team defended resolutely, however, matching their rivals gybe for gybe to ensure their first podium finish on an offshore leg would also be their first win, and spark wild celebrations lit up by a booming firework display.

For Groupama, the consolation prize came soon enough, as Telefónica’s finish in fourth place — behind PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG in the third podium slot and just ahead of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand — meant the French team climb above them.

Abu Dhabi, who finished at 21:23:54 UTC, received 30 points for victory, with Groupama netting 25 after their finish at 21:29:21. PUMA took 20 points, Telefonica 15 and CAMPER 10.

Team Sanya finished sixth to pick up five points.

Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, now lead Telefónica by three points overall, with the Spanish team dropping off the lead for the first time since their victory on Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town back in November.

Four teams remain separated by just 21 points, making it the closest contest in the 39-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race with just two offshore legs and three in-port races still to come.

The arrival in Lisbon represented a homecoming for Abu Dhabi, who had a training base in nearby Cascais during the build-up to the race.

“It’s incredible — what a welcome,” said Walker, before he and Emirati crew member Adil Khalid were chucked into the water by their team mates.

“Do you think you can make the last 10 miles of a race any harder than that?

“It’s one of the most amazing experiences of my sailing career, that’s for sure. Mentally, certainly I’m exhausted. It’s just such a relief.”

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK celebrate finishing first on leg 7, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by  IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK celebrate finishing first on leg 7, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi also visited Lisbon in much less happy circumstances during Leg 1, after a dismasting within the first few hours ultimately forced them to ship the boat from Lisbon to Cape Town.

While they have notched up three victories in in-port races, and have a strong chance of winning the series, this is the first time they have really been able to shine in an offshore leg.

First Groupama and then Telefónica enjoyed the lead for long spells on a leg that started out looking like a fast, direct sprint across the Atlantic before the effects of Tropical Storm Alberto altered things drastically.

One by one, the boats were forced to head ever further north towards the ice exclusion zone.

Abu Dhabi moved into the lead on Day 6 and after briefly surrendering it to CAMPER they were back ahead the following day.

Two days later they were clear, though skipper Ian Walker warned repeatedly that a light-air zone inside the final 300 nautical miles would see the fleet compress.

That’s exactly how it turned out, with Abu Dhabi forced to scrap every step of the way to an emotional victory at the team’s second home.

“It came down to the wire, and we certainly had our ups and downs, but we are very happy,” said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. “it was a good operation for us!”

Third place for PUMA kept them in contention for the overall lead, 12 points behind new leaders Groupama.

“This is a great result,” said the team’s American skipper Ken Read. “There’s still a lot of points on the board and to be on the podium is a big deal for us.”

Crown Prince Felipe of Spain visits Team Telefonica in the Lisbon Race Village, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Crown Prince Felipe of Spain visits Team Telefonica in the Lisbon Race Village, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

The battle between Telefónica and CAMPER for fourth and fifth came down to a slow-motion tussle over an excruciating final few miles, with no breeze and the current against them.

Telefónica eventually finished with an advantage of 102 seconds and less than a boat length for a five-point boost that could yet prove crucial.

The action resumes with the In-Port Race on June 9, followed by the start of Leg 8 to Lorient the following day.

Leg 7 results:

1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 11d, 04h, 23m, 54s

2. Groupama sailing team – 11d, 04h, 29m, 21s

3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG – 11d, 06h, 26m, 52s

4. Team Telefónica – 11d, 08h, 28m, 27s

5. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand – 11d, 08h, 30m, 09s

6. Team Sanya – 11d, 08h, 44m, 25s

Overall        Leg 7    Total
1            Groupama sailing team    25    183
2            Team Telefónica    15    180
3            PUMA Ocean Racing by BERG    20    171
4            CAMPER with Emirates Team NZ    10    162
5            Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing    30    104
6            Team Sanya    5    32

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK, passes a spectator boat, during the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK, passes a spectator boat, during the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing launched an 11th hour comeback in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race to take their tally of in-shore successes to three, while Groupama scored a strong second to pile the pressure on overall race leaders Telefónica.

Ian Walker’s crew were rewarded for sailing a near-perfect race on Saturday when they snatched the lead from Groupama on the penultimate leg and went on to seal a dramatic victory.

Although they were pipped at the post, Groupama’s result moves them to within just seven points of Telefónica, who had yet more in-port disappointment when a penalty for touching one of the turning marks relegated them to last place.

In a thrilling finale, PUMA came from behind to rocket past CAMPER into third just metres from the finish line.

It was a fourth successive podium finish in the in-shore series for Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crew, and it brought them to within a point of third-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand on the overall scoreboard.

Team Sanya, the only team not racing in a new generation boat, were unlucky not to finish higher up the leaderboard, having to settle for fifth after a brave battle with their rivals.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK celebrate taking first place, in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by  IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK celebrate taking first place, in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

“It feels great,” said a jubilant Abu Dhabi skipper Walker moments after crossing the finish line.

“We’ve had a tough time of it. We had no time at all to prepare for the last in-port race and we made a special point of having two full days’ training here. We wanted to show the world that Abu Dhabi hasn’t given up. We’re a good team, we’re determined, and it feels great to win a race.”

With the Volvo Ocean Race entering a critical stage with just three offshore legs and three in-port races left, just 14 points split the top four boats.

Telefónica still lead with 165 points but snapping at their heels are Groupama on 158, while CAMPER and PUMA are dangerously close on 152 and 151 respectively, bolstered by the results of the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race.

In a nail-biting contest peppered with position changes, Abu Dhabi capitalised on a strong start along with Sanya but it was Telefónica who led round the first mark, showing off their blistering speed on Leg 1.

The action couldn’t have been any more intense with Abu Dhabi and Groupama overhauling Telefónica on Leg 2. Meanwhile, after paying the price for heading offshore, CAMPER and PUMA were left desperately chasing the frontrunners.

While the front two stretched their lead, a fierce battle for third developed, climaxing on Leg 6 with Telefónica hitting the mark and the rest of the fleet piling in behind.

Telefónica were penalised by the on-the-water umpires, adding to their in-port misery and ending their hopes of consolidating their overall lead.

Sniffing a chance to pick up crucial points, PUMA, CAMPER and Sanya put pedal to metal and launched an extraordinary comeback that brought them back in touch with then leaders Groupama and second-placed Abu Dhabi with just a few legs left.

Abu Dhabi’s defining moment came when they hoisted a bigger sail than their French rivals, making the most of the smallest of speed advantages to pass Groupama despite having to dodge a spectator boat.

With the breeze fading, race officials chose to shorten the course and Abu Dhabi hung on to claim the win, all the more sweet due to the fact that just a few weeks ago their stricken boat Azzam was on a container ship en route to Brazil.

The sailors and shore crews are now turning their sights on the final preparations for 3,580 nautical mile Leg 7 from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal, starting on Sunday at 1700 UTC (1300 local time).

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK celebrate taking first place, in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK celebrate taking first place, in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

PORTMIAMI In-Port Race results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 74:09
2. Groupama sailing team, +00:33
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, +02:02
4. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, +02:11 
5. Team Sanya, +2:35
6. Team Telefónica, +6:28

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, skippered by Ken Read from the USA chases down CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, skippered by Chris Nicholson from Australia, to take third place in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by  IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, skippered by Ken Read from the USA chases down CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, skippered by Chris Nicholson from Australia, to take third place in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing  (Photo by George Bekris)

PUMA Ocean Racing (Photo by George Bekris)

Ken Read and The PUMA Ocean Racing Powered By BERG team win Leg 6,American skipper Ken Read led his PUMA team to a second consecutive leg win on Wednesday, arriving on home soil in Miami triumphant following an epic 17-day match race with closest rivals CAMPER to confirm they are back in contention for overall victory.

Since the heartbreak of the first leg, in which their yacht Mar Mostro dismasted, PUMA have been on the up – and after scoring their first offshore success in Leg 5 from Auckland to Itajaí, Brazil, they made it two in two with glory in Leg 6.

After coming off best in an intense battle for first place with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who at one point closed the gap to less than a mile, Read said his team were back in the fight for the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 trophy.

“That was about as stressful as it can get, believe me,” Read said. “It was touch and go, and the guys on CAMPER sailed very well, but I couldn’t be more proud of our team — they did an unbelievably great job.”

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crossed the finish line at 18:14:00 UTC, 17 days after leaving from Itajaí, Brazil, with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand around an hour behind PUMA and on course to take second.

PUMA Ocean Racing first into Miami (Photo by Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing first into Miami (Photo by Ian Roman /Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA dominated the 4,800 nautical mile leg from the start, only surrendering the lead on two occasion to CAMPER and for no more than 48 hours.

A fast start to the leg in fresh conditions saw PUMA lead out of Itajaí and into several days of fast sailing up the Brazilian coast.

As winds eased the fleet split into three groups, with CAMPER and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing closest to the shore enjoying two days at the head of the pack, while Team Telefónica and Groupama sailing team opted to head east in search of better breeze. PUMA split the difference and it paid as they got a jump on their rivals that would lay the foundations for their eventual win.

With the south-east trade winds providing near-perfect conditions for the Volvo Open 70s, a drag race began up to the Equator and through the Doldrums, which presented little problem for the fleet. But 10 days into racing, PUMA were nearly undone by storm clouds which stalled the leaders, allowing CAMPER and Telefónica to reel them in to just six miles.

Into the Caribbean Sea they enjoyed fast sailing once more until they hit tricky weather systems that once again saw the leading boats compress. Despite coming under fire from CAMPER right up until the very last minute, faultless sailing saw PUMA defend their lead to claim the win.

PUMA Ocean Racing Crosses the Leg 6 Finish line in Miani, USA (Photo by Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing Crosses the Leg 6 Finish line in Miani, USA (Photo by Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race)

It’s the fourth time in six legs that PUMA have finished on the podium, and they pick up an invaluable 30 points for the leg win to take their overall tally to 147.

CAMPER will be awarded 25 points for second place, their best result in the offshore series since Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi when they finished second behind Team Telefónica.

“It’s been a long leg and PUMA have sailed very nicely, they have defended very well, but I think we have attacked well too,” CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said as his team closed in on the finish line. “I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone. We’re in better shape now for the next leg.”

Both teams will close the gap on overall leaders Telefónica, who were still scrapping it out for the final podium position with Groupama sailing team.

The current ETA for the arrival of Groupama and Telefónica is 0300 UTC, with fifth-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing expected to arrive at 0800 UTC.

 

eg 6
09/05/2012 18:23:56 UTC
DTL DTLC BS DTF
1 PUMA FIN 017d 01h 13m 59s
2 CMPR 0.00 7 12 9.2
3 GPMA 55.20 9 16 64.4
4 TELE 65.10 9 15 74.3
5 ADOR 135.70 9 14 144.9
SNYA Did Not Start
 All hands on deck during a sail change onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 6  (Photo by Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)

All hands on deck during a sail change onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 6 (Photo by Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

A trough of low pressure blocking the fleet’s path brought light winds on Friday and a tactical split in the trio at the front. Leaders PUMA have stuck doggedly to their north easterly course, while CAMPER and Telefónica gybed to the west in search of stronger winds closer to the Caribbean Islands.

By 1200 UTC today Team Telefónica had resumed a northerly track, putting pressure on CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who must decide to follow suit or press on with a higher risk westerly strategy.

With up to 30 hours of slow sailing likely before the leaders break through into steadier winds, the pressure is well and truly on for the skippers and navigators on the top three boats.

Rome Kirby and Shannon Falcone share grinding responsibilities for the spinnaker trim, onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 6 (Photo by Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Rome Kirby and Shannon Falcone share grinding responsibilities for the spinnaker trim, onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 6 (Photo by Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG navigator Tom Addis said leading into such a scenario was always tricky as it raised the threat of being caught by the boats behind, but was nevertheless confident in the short term strategy.

“A front has come through to the north and disturbed the trade winds so we’ve all compressed again,” Addis said. “It is unfortunate for us but it’s just how it goes.

“It’s hard to say when the breeze will pick up again. We’ve still got about 10 knots of breeze but it’s going to be a good day and a half before we’re into decent breeze again.

“When the wind goes light and you compress, especially for a good solid day, anything can happen. If someone gets a squall and picks up some wind for a few hours that could easily turn the fleet inside out.

“That makes things more tense on board, no question.”

Addis said PUMA’s current plan was to skirt around the eastern side of the Caribbean to avoid the additional threat of wind shadows in the lee of the island chain.

“The next 1,000 miles is going to be pretty light and tricky and it’s going to be ‘heart in the mouth’ stuff for the majority of the rest of the leg,” he said.

“We think we’ve got a solid plan and most likely we’ll go round the outside of the Caribbean islands,” he said. “Through the Caribbean there’s plenty of water but it’s fraught with lees.

“Those islands are very tall and they create big wind shadows so you’ve got to be very careful going through them.”

On second placed CAMPER, Media Crew Member Hamish Hooper said the mood was equally tense with skipper Chris Nicholson and navigator Will Oxley spending long hours together at the navigation station, deliberating on the best plan.

“It is certain to be a nerve-wracking few days for sure,” Hooper said.

“It has been said from the start that this last 1,000 miles will be where the leg is won and lost, and it’s looking about as tricky as tricky can be, with light fickle breezes throughout.

“It’s a maze. One boat will come out looking famous and it could be one of any of the five boats in the fleet.

Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race Zane Gills on the bow preparing for a sail change, onboard Team Telefonica during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.( Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race Zane Gills on the bow preparing for a sail change, onboard Team Telefonica during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.( Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race).

“Abu Dhabi and Groupama who are still 100 miles behind are still right in this leg and in fact they are in the sometimes enviable position of having nothing to lose, so able to throw caution to the wind and take a gamble.”

Telefónica navigator Andrew Cape described the final push to the finish as “a bit touch and go”.

“There’s going to be a lot of changes, put it that way,” Cape added. “It’s going to be a tricky one. There’s going to be opportunities both ways but certainly the team that gets it right will be the winner.”

Cape said he was happy with the Spanish team’s positioning at this point but said there would be plenty of other key decisions to agonise over before the finish.

“We’re where we wanted to be, but this is the very first stage of about 25 that we need to get right,” he said.

At 1300 UTC PUMA still led the fleet, from CAMPER in second, Team Telefónica in third, Groupama sailing team in fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth.

Latest estimates show the leading boats arriving in Miami on or around midday on May 9.

Sailing backwards to remove seaweed, onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Photo by Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Sailing backwards to remove seaweed, onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Photo by Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

 

PUMA Ocean Racing (Photo by Amory Ross/ PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

UMA Ocean Racing (Photo by Amory Ross/ PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Leg 6 leaders PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG have today bought themselves some valuable miles against their closest challengers, Team Telefónica and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, after the chasing duo closed to within two miles yesterday.

PUMA made the best of a move by the top three boats towards the Brazilian coast over the last 24 hours, picking up assistance from northerly currents and a zone of wind acceleration closer to the shore to pull out a lead of 30 nautical miles (nm) at 1000 UTC today over second placed Telefónica.

After spending most of Sunday with their hearts in their mouths watching both CAMPER and Telefónica close them down, the PUMA crew — headed by American skipper Ken Read — saw their speed rocket close to 20 knots after passing the latitude of Fortaleza to the north east of Brazil.

PUMA crossed the Equator at 0840 UTC — their fourth and final crossing of this edition of the race — and must now protect their lead through the Doldrums, a band of fickle breezes located around 100 nm north.

Full crew weight aft in a tight battle with Team Telefonica, onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Photo by Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/ Volvo Ocean Race)

Full crew weight aft in a tight battle with Team Telefonica, onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA (Photo by Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/ Volvo Ocean Race) .

Telefónica and CAMPER both crossed the Equator at 0910 UTC in second and third respectively.

Back in fourth, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crossed the Equator at 1155 UTC having closed to within just over 40 nm of CAMPER despite sailing in different breezes for most of the last few days.

Craig Satterwaite finishing his shower up forward, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Photo by Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Craig Satterwaite finishing his shower up forward, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Photo by Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Skipper Ian Walker said that with around 100 nm to run to the Doldrums the Emirati team were preparing themselves “for a bit of action later today.”

“It’s been a difficult day or two,” Walker said. “We just generally seem to be sailing in less wind than everyone else.

“We made quite a nice gain towards the end of yesterday on CAMPER and Telefónica so we’re just trying to hang on to them as best we can and hope something opens up.”

Walker said he hoped to be able to make further gains to get within striking distance of the leaders later in the leg when the fleet will engage in a 1,000 nm trade wind drag race to the Caribbean.

“Generally we’re losing a couple of miles per sked but then we’re always in a lot less wind. Hopefully we’ll have made up that distance in the next few days,” he said.

With any Doldrums crossing generally throwing up opportunities for the boats playing catch up, Walker said he was hopeful of making gains on the leaders soon after the Equator.

“All we have to go on is models and satellite pictures which might not necessarily tell the right story,” Walker said. “It’s still the Doldrums, there could still be a period of the boats slowing down and a lot of storm activity depending on what time of the day you get there.

“I’m sure something’s going to happen but relative to the Doldrums we’ve seen in the race so far it looks reasonably inactive. Maybe we’ll just sail straight through and hook into the north east trades and be off.

“We’ve got to prepare for anything,” Walker said.

At 1300 UTC today PUMA’s lead was 31 nm over second placed Team Telefónica who were 9 nm ahead of CAMPER in third.

Abu Dhabi remained in fourth 48 nm behind CAMPER with Franck Cammas’ Groupama sailing team in fifth, 142 nm off the lead.

The leading boats are expected to complete Leg 6 from Itajaí to Miami on or around May 9.

 DTL DTLC BS DTF
1   PUMA 0.00  0 19.2 2612.1
2   TELE 30.70  1 19.6 2642.8
3   CMPR 39.70  4 18.1 2651.8
4   ADOR 86.50  10 15.8 2698.6
5   GPMA 141.70  14 14.6 2753.7
–   SNYA Did Not Start

 

 

Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
Sunrise onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.
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Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race
Bowman Zane Gills adjusting the sail, onboard Team Telefonica during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.
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Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race
Full crew weight aft in a tight battle with Team Telefonica, onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.
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Bowman Zane Gills adjusting the sail, onboard Team Telefonica during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Diego Fructuoso/ Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

Bowman Zane Gills adjusting the sail, onboard Team Telefonica during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Diego Fructuoso/ Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)


The chasing Volvo Ocean Race pack were formulating their comeback plans on Friday in a bid to reel in Leg 6 leaders PUMA — while struggling Groupama fell further behind the frontrunners.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG were still enjoying a 15-mile buffer over their rivals as they neared the northeast corner of Brazil, but overall race leaders Team Telefónica currently in third, were starting to show signs of recovery as they began to find their pace.

Under the guidance of Spanish Olympian Iker Martínez and expert navigator Andrew Cape, Telefónica scythed 11 miles off the pacesetters in the past 12 hours.

“Right now we’re just going fast compared to yesterday,” Cape said. “There are some long miles to clear the land, and some long miles before the West Indies, so there’s a lot of sailing to do. We’re going to turn up the heat and win the race.”

Telefónica, who top the overall standings by 16 points, have been playing catch-up after their plan to position themselves east of the fleet failed to pay off and they were left in fourth place just ahead of Groupama sailing team.

CAMPER With Emirates Team New Zealandand Team Abu Dhabi battle it out in the Atlantic (Photo by Nick Dana / Team Abu Dhabi / Volvo Ocean Race)

CAMPER With Emirates Team New Zealand and Team Abu Dhabi battle it out in the Atlantic (Photo by Nick Dana / Team Abu Dhabi / Volvo Ocean Race)

Since then Telefónica have overhauled Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to jump up to third and at 1300 UTC on Friday they were the fastest boat in the fleet, trailing second-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand by 13 miles.

Cape, who has seen his team to three offshore leg wins so far, said the crew were confident of a comeback.

“There may still be a drag race in those sort of conditions we’re pretty good,” he added. “There’s a long way to go, and we can do it.”

The same could not be said for French team Groupama who have struggled to find their feet, now 104  miles behind PUMA with little chance of making up ground in the immediate future.

“We’re not in the position in the fleet that we’d like to be in,” Groupama bowman Brad Marsh said. “We’ve had a tough 48 hours trying to work out what the wind is going to do.”

Despite their current deficit, Marsh said the leg was far from decided with more than 3,500 miles left to sail to the finish in Miami.

“We’ve fallen back behind the fleet a little bit but there’s still lots more chances to catch up on this leg,” he added. “The fat lady hasn’t sung just yet, and I don’t think she knows what song she’s going to sing.

“We’ll just keep pushing away, try to stay as close as possible to the boats in front and hopefully get an opportunity to catch up.”

Although into the favourable and more consistent trade winds, the teams have not seen the blistering speeds they had hoped for due to the effects of a low pressure system in the South Atlantic.

Once past Recife on the northeast tip of Brazil, expected to happen tomorrow, speeds will increase as the wind strength intensifies.

On second-placed CAMPER, the crew’s focus was directed fully at whittling down PUMA’s lead.

“We’re set up pretty nicely so hopefully we can make some gains on PUMA,” helmsman Tony Rae said. “They’re going to get round the corner of Brazil ahead of us but hopefully we can chip away and drag them back in.”

The current ETA for the leading boat into Miami is May 8.

1   PUMA 0.00  0 12.9 3555.5
2   CMPR 14.70  2 13 3570.2
3   TELE 27.80  5 13.8 3583.3
4   ADOR 42.80  3 13.4 3598.3
5   GPMA 104.10  1 11.7 3659.5
–   SNYA Did Not Start

Team Telefonica during leg 6 2011-12, from Itajaí, Brasil to Miami (Photo by  Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

Team Telefonica during leg 6 2011-12, from Itajaí, Brasil to Miami (Photo by Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

It was crunch time for the Volvo Ocean Race crews on Wednesday as they prepared to punch through a weather front that stands between them and the sought-after trade winds that will catapult them towards Miami.

Whichever team best navigates the light winds of the cold front and reaches the trades first will hold a huge advantage over their rivals as they rocket north at speeds of more than 20 knots — and any losses made over the initial days of Leg 6 will become brutally clear.

After overhauling CAMPER and Abu Dhabi as they struggled in lighter airs overnight, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG looked strongest as the fleet approached the front currently blocking their path.

But with Telefónica and Groupama shaving miles off the leaders from their more offshore position, the pressure was on to get through as quickly as possible without losing miles to any other team.

Onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Photo by  Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Photo by Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

“Today’s the big day really,” said PUMA navigator Tom Addis. “The first boat into the trades has a pretty major advantage — you can extend for quite a long time and be quite hard to catch.

“This is the critical one. Some points on some race tracks aren’t critical, but this one is critical.”

With the front around 60 miles ahead, the teams were ploughing all their resources into working out the best line to take through its light, fluky winds.

“I spent a lot of last night working on our approach for this stuff,” Addis added. “We’re happy with our position and if we’re in the lead our chances [of reaching the trades first] are something more than 50 per cent.

“But we’re leading into some light stuff and there will be some pressure from behind so we’ll just try and do the best we can and be the first one out. It’s important to be the first one out.”

Meanwhile, Franck Cammas’ men on fifth-placed Groupama sailing team were doing their best to hang on to Telefónica in conditions that seemed to favour the overall race leaders.

onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race. (Photo by Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

onboard Groupama Sailing Team leg 6 2011-12. (Photo by Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

“We are more used to being the hunted rather than the hunters,” said Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias. “In general, we’ve been on the same option as Telefónica and they’ve always been a bit faster than us.

“We’re investigating — we’re looking below the hull, we’re looking at the daggerboards, checking if there is some seaweed or plastic stuck on them, but the conclusion right now is that we are a bit behind.”

However with the cold front transition zone immanent, Nélias said there were plenty of opportunities to pass their rivals up ahead.

“It’s a bit like the Doldrums,” he added. “It’s so hazardous and complicated that it’s not always the first to enter it who leaves it first.”

Volvo Ocean Race chief meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said the cold front was narrower in the east, ahead of Telefónica and Groupama, and wider in the west in front of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

“All the hard work of the first four days comes down to this,” Infante said. “It’s a super critical moment. The teams have an opportunity to capitalise on their position by entering the trades first.”

The dilemma could force CAMPER and Abu Dhabi to head offshore from their current positions around 90 miles off the coast of Brazil, costing them precious miles.

CAMPER were dealt a blow overnight when a rope securing the foresail to the bow of their yacht snapped.

“Luckily everyone was ok and time wise it probably only cost us a minute or two so we are very fortunate,” said skipper Chris Nicholson.

On board Abu Dhabi, the crew were preparing for the demanding day ahead as they closed in on their rivals.

“Things remain tight with CAMPER and we are slowly converging with the Juan K boats,” helmsman Rob Greenhalgh said. “There are a few lightning storms up ahead, so it looks like we are approaching the frontal line. It should be an interesting next 24 hours.”

The first boats are expected to cross the Leg 6 finish line in Miami around May 7.

Leg 6
25/04/2012 13:03:02 UTC
DTL         DTLC    BS    DTF
1            PUMA    0.00        0    10.8    4035.8
2            CMPR    5.70        2    13.4    4041.4
3            ADOR    12.10        1    13.3    4047.9
4            TELE     21.10        0    13.3    4056.9
5            GPMA    37.90        5    13.8    4073.7
–            SNYA    Did Not Start

onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Franck Cammas and Groupama 4 Crew win Brazil In-Port (Photo by Yann Zedda)

Franck Cammas and Groupama 4 Crew win Brazil In-Port (Photo by Yann Zedda)

A confused start and a mistake by the Spanish leader marked this sixth In-Port race in Brazil! And despite pressure from the New Zealanders, Franck Cammas and his men controlled the course with flawless assurance… An extremely encouraging result just days after the installation of a new mast and above all a few extra steps closer to first place in the overall standing for Groupama 4.

The weather was stormy and unstable as the Volvo Ocean Race fired up again with the In-Port race off the port of Itajai (Brazil). In rain of varying degrees of intensity, the kick-off was given just a few minutes later than scheduled so as to enable a moderate southerly breeze to move in. The scenario involved around ten knots of breeze and little visibility beneath the squalls, but a very pleasant temperature for racing.

A penalty for the Americans

The start was very untidy: the Americans barged their way through at the Committee boat end, failing to respond to Abu Dhabi’s luff, they in turn having to leave room for Groupama 4, which was powered up in this phase of the course. As such Puma were dealt a 360 degree penalty. However, the damage was done as Franck Cammas and his men found themselves to leeward of Puma and Abu Dhabi, whilst the New Zealanders made the most of this bottleneck to get past everyone to windward. Indeed the start was carried out under spinnaker and getting the upper hand in the initial metres was essential.

Meantime, everyone had forgotten about the Spanish, who got a clear ride to leeward of the start line and when they came in to gybe onto the first course mark, Telefonica on top of Camper and was able to get past by taking their wind. This resulting stalling by the New Zealanders also enabled the Emirati boat and the French boat to take up root on their stern at the first mark, as the breeze was tending to ease. The whole fleet remained bunched, because even the Americans were still in the match thanks to the weakening breeze.
The short beat towards the following mark favoured a position to windward of any rivals and once again the Spanish made the best of the edge they had and were first to hunt down mark 2. Groupama 4 made the most of this manoeuvre to cover the New Zealanders thanks to a perfect change of tack on their bow! Franck Cammas thus snatched second place behind Telefonica as they were about to begin a long reaching leg, still in around ten knots of breeze.
A fatal error!

Itajai In-Port - Groupama 4 © Yvan Zedda

Itajai In-Port - Groupama 4 © Yvan Zedda

The surprise came when the Spanish leaders began to make for the wrong mark under spinnaker, whilst the rest of the fleet continued along on a reach! Groupama 4 moved up into the lead at that point and made a dive towards the next mark under spinnaker. The hierarchy appeared favourable with Camper conceding a few metres, Puma and Abu Dhabi around a hundred metres further back… and Telefonica a leg down. As they rounded the leeward mark, the breeze fell away to less than six knots and the beat was shaping up to be extremely tense. Groupama 4 benefited from a good wind shift whilst Camper, forced to get clear of the dirty air left by the French boat’s sails, headed off to the wrong side of the racecourse.
Remaining focused in this fluky breeze wasn’t easy, but Groupama 4’s tactician, Laurent Pagès, perfectly controlled the New Zealanders, preventing them from taking the initiative as the Kiwi boat was at ease in these light upwind conditions. The battle behind them was just as fierce between Abu Dhabi and Puma, though the Emirati boat didn’t manage to overtake the American boat which, in turn, was putting pressure on Camper! By that stage, all Franck Cammas and his men had to do was to put in one last gybe before the finish line. Groupama 4 went on to win her first In-Port race with a 48-second lead over Camper and 1’05 ahead of Puma. Most importantly the French team secured some very important points for the final standing since the Spanish leaders finished last…

Quotes from the boat

Laurent Pagès, tactician on Groupama 4:

“It was an intense race! Added to that, we got a surprise at the start because the south-easterly wind kicked back in very quickly: we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare ourselves and visualise the right place on the start line correctly. However, we weren’t far off performing a very good start in contact with the other boats. After that you had to remain lucid as regards what the wind was doing, as it was oscillating a fair bit, and we had to make sure we didn’t fluff the manoeuvre. We were lucky to be in a position to benefit from the mistake made by Telefonica as they were leading the race at that point. Obviously the direction they were taking threw our crew into doubt but the answer came very simply thanks to Charles Caudrelier. We noted that we were making fast headway upwind and we were always striving to stick to the inside track to round the marks. We ended up by securing a win, but above all gained four points on the Spanish leader in the overall standing! It’s important for the results in Galway… However, it’s also a psychological bonus: we’ve kept up this dynamic since Abu Dhabi so we just have to continue in the same vein.”

Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 4:

“It’s a great surprise: we weren’t expecting to be in front in this type of race. We were lucky, but we’ve also made a lot of progress in this format. Added to that, luck smiles on the daring: we were in the thick of the action from the first course mark. We were at ease in all the phases of the game, with a new genoa which gave us good speed upwind. We’ve also got a better handle on these close-contact races now, which is enabling us to build up our game without having to worry too much about our rivals. Even under spinnaker we found some deeper angles without having to follow the other boats. Winning an In-Port race after a dismasting is obviously a point in our favour, even though there’s nothing like the final offshore exercise to really test our reliability. And it’s good for morale too…”

Standing in the In-Port race in Itajai:

1-Groupama 4 in 46’27 = 6 points
2-Camper 48” astern = 5 points
3-Puma 1’05 astern = 4 points
4-Abu Dhabi 1’33 astern = 3 points
5-Telefonica 5’40 astern = 2 points
DNS-Sanya = 0 point

Overall standing after five offshore legs and six In-Port races:

1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2 = 149 points
2-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6 = 133 points
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5 = 124 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4 = 117 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3 = 58 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0 = 25 points

Itajai In-Port - Groupama 4 © Yvan Zedda

Itajai In-Port - Groupama 4 © Yvan Zedda