Volvo Ocean Race: Neck and neck between Groupama and Puma

Brad Jackson gets ready for two hours at the wheel, onboard Puma Ocean Racing during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil.

The heat is on at the head of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet on Leg 5. Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg (Ken Read/USA) have nipped past Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) and the two boats are racing neck and neck up the coast of Argentina.

At 1000 GMT today, according the Volvo Ocean Race Management, Puma led Groupama by 8.8 nm. The French team are 148 nm offshore of Puerto Deseado, a fishing port in Patagonia in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina. Puma are 22 nm to leeward and both teams are racing in a light 10-knot westerly breeze. Later in the week, the fleet will enjoy downwind conditions in 25 knots of wind, followed by a possible 700 nm-beat to the finish. Both teams yesterday passed west of the Falkland Islands.

Pepe Ribes gives the thumbs up to the repairs made at Cape Horn, as the team get ready to re-join leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)
But according to the latest projection, using the routing function of www.predictwind.com!Predictwind, Groupama still holds her lead, by two hours using one of two weather feeds, and the boats are level pegging uisng another.

Even so this situation represents a big change in fortunes for Puma, and her positioning on the course has been very good since the two boats rounded Cape Horn. The US flagged entry has made some bold navigational moves, and several of these have paid off and one has not. Puma are continuing the same navigational success formula they employed since being well behind the fleet closing into Taiwan at the opening stages of Leg 3 - and were able to get back into second boat into Auckland, and could have won the leg.

A first time leg win in this edition of the race is well within the grasp of the Puma crew. The weather forecasts show plenty of passing lanes to the east and west, as well as several high-pressure systems to the north and the race for first place looks set to go down to the wire.

Puma's Mar Mostro is performing well and the crew are happy with their light-air downwind boat speed, but the strategy of Cammas and his men continues to confound them. On legs 1 and 2, the French made radical decisions, but on legs 3 and 4, they sailed more conservatively.

'It is hard to know what they’re thinking and that in turn, makes our decision-making process tougher,' said Puma’s Media Crew Member Amory Ross. 'If we wanted to take a flyer and gain some leverage to put some distance between us, we easily could,' he added. There are a number of decisions being weighed up by the Puma afterguard as they consider the options of sailing inshore or offshore, covering Groupama or striking out in search of better breeze and putting more miles between themselves and the French.

Meanwhile, after a successful pit stop at Caleta Martial, a cove on Herschel Island in Chile, Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) resumed racing on Saturday at 2133 GMT, but without bowman Antonio Cuervas-Mons. The Spaniard will miss the remaining 2,000 nautical miles (nm) of the leg due to a lower back injury affecting his sciatic nerve.

The crewman has spent two days or so in his bunk, and has remained ashore in order to ensure he is up to full fitness for the final four legs of the race.

Position report as at 1000hrs on 1 April, showing Puma and Groupama in an arm wrestle for the lead; Telefonica has restarted; Camper is headed for Puerto Montt and Abu Dhabi has apparently not made a decision, but is following Camper

Skipper Iker Martínez said of the departure, 'As always, it takes much longer to get over these things on the boat, and even though he’s fairly OK now, we can’t risk him getting injured again. The doctors say there is no reason he can’t be back to full strength in 10 days or two weeks, which is how long it will take us to sail up to Brazil, so we’ve taken the safest option.'

At the time of suspension, Telefónica was under 200 nm from Groupama 4, but the 12-hour pit stop caused the deficit to rise to 412 nm at the time the team resumed racing.



While Puma and Groupama fight it out for the lead, in fourth and fifth places respectively, Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) continue to head north-east towards Chile. Camper are less than 600 nm from the fjord leading to Puerto Montt, where their shore team is waiting to make repairs. The team will return to the racetrack to sail around Cape Horn and finish the leg in Itajaí.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, however, are still evaluating the repairs they made on Friday and keeping clear of strong conditions further south.

Flat water and 20 knots of wind, onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

The Team Telefonica shore and racing crew in Martial Creek, Cabo de Hornos National Park, ready to re-join leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

Night sailing on flat seas for Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Skipper Chris Nicholson and Daryl Wislang onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, heading towards Chile, during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©