Volvo Ocean Race: Camper has narrow lead as fleet does a big split

Skipper Chris Nicholson and Navigator Andy McLean watch the trailing fleet like hawks onboard Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©

Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand hold a slender advantage over their rivals today as the fleet continues to edge their way around the tip of Africa.

Camper’s margin has been hard earned however, with the entire crew fully focused on squeezing every ounce of speed out of the boat as the light wind conditions continue.

At the 1300 UTC position report less than one nautical mile separated the top four boats with second placed Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg, Groupama sailing team in third and fourth placed Team Sanya all poised to pounce upon any slip up from the leader.

Media crew member Hamish Hooper described the concerted effort overnight that enabled Camper to get their nose ahead: 'The guys are all working really hard right now, sails being moved forward and aft, Adam [Minoprio] is up the mast spotting where the best pressure is and Stu [Bannatyne] is just trying to keep the boat moving as fast as possible in the direction we want to go.'

Navigator Will Oxley confessed to having had very little sleep while the Camper crew picked their way through way through the minefield of wind holes and adverse current close to the shoreline.

'I got a couple of hours of sleep last night and about an hour and a half the night before,’’ he said. 'I find I’m doing some of my jobs between micro sleeps – not sure if one minute has passed or five minutes since I started a task. That’s when you know you have to get some proper rest.'

Latest position report as of 0430hrs UTC on 14 December. Groupama is the offshore yacht, Abu Dhabi inshore

Oxley admits the route the fleet is taking so far on this leg is unknown territory for him but says the benign conditions of the first two days could soon come to an end in the next 24 hours as the fleet face the opposing forces of strong westerly winds and the notorious Agulhas Current.

'It’s pretty unusual to be tacking down this South African coast. I have certainly never done it,’’ he said. 'There is a whole series of lows around Africa right now and we are expecting one to come off the land and out on to the water.

'If you are on the back of it you have a south westerly wind which could be 30 to 35 knots. Then you have a current that is opposing it and that could mean six metre waves, which would be pretty unpleasant.

'The Agulhas is notorious for that sort of sea state as soon as the breeze comes up – and we will try to avoid it.'

The fleet is expected to start to feel the first Agulhas effects on Wednesday, before which the skippers and navigators will have hoped to work out the narrowest crossing point to avoid sailing in these potentially boat-breaking conditions any longer than necessary.

Once safely through the Agulhas the fleet could be in for some high speed sailing as two low pressure systems merge south-east of Africa creating a 35 to 40 knot westerly wind high-speed superhighway across the Indian Ocean.

This front is predicted to move easterly in conjunction with the fleet and could create the opportunity for an IWC Schaffhausen 24 hour Speed Record Challenge attempt.

The latest weather synopsis is creating sense of urgency for fifth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and tail enders Team Telefónica who will have to fight hard to close down the leaders as they head towards the powerful low, or run the risk being left behind.