Volvo Ocean Race: Routing options galore to get across the Atlantic

Tony Rae enjoys reading a positive sked onboard Camper during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal.
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©

Camper pulled off an incredible mid-leg comeback on Friday shooting from last place into the lead in less than 48 hours, while overall race leaders Telefónica slipped down the rankings after being snared in light winds.

Just two days ago, Camper more than 80 miles behind the leaders, struggling to get back into the race.

But clever tactics from Nicholson and navigator Will Oxley saw Camper climb steadily through the rankings and by 1300 UTC they had picked off Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the final boat standing between them and the number one spot.

According to subsequent positions, with the latest being nine hours later than the latest VOR report, at 2100UTC, Camper at first stretched her gains on the fleet, but then lost it to Puma and Abu Dhabi.

Overall fleet positions - Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 7 - May 25, 2012 at 1300hrs UTC
Route prediction software shows that the six boats have a variety of options to get through the next two days. Some are being pushed north, but for the race leaders the southerly option is the recommended diet.

That would push the leaders back into Camper's part of the Atlantic ocean, while currently they are slightly to the north of the great circle route - the shortest distance to the finish in Lisbon, Portugal where they are expected to finish in five days time.

In earlier position reports, still after the 1300UTC report referenced by Volvo Ocean Race in their latest report, the www.predictwind.com!Predictwind route projection software had Camper up to two hours ahead of the second placed boat, Abu Dhabi and with Puma five hours astern.

That had turned inside out by the next sked, but the fact remains that with the exception of Sanya, all are being routed south, aside from Camper who is put on a more direct course for the time being.

Volvo Ocean Race reported that Camper's turn around in fortunes, which saw her jump from last to first in the six boat fleet, was a huge boost for the crew, who are still seeking their first offshore leg win. However with more than 2,000 nautical miles still to sail and a race course littered with potential pitfalls, the leg is far from decided, VOR said.

'Will's and Nico’s long-labored and meticulously conjured up plan to head north and split from the fleet paid big dividends and all of a sudden we have managed to leap frog a fair chunk of the fleet,' Camper media crew member Hamish Hooper said.

Some dramatic course changes have taken place over the past 12 hours on the Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 7 - May 25, 2012 at 1300hrs UTC
'It’s a nice feeling going from one wrong extreme to the right one, but by no means anything to get too carried away with other than a quiet grin and momentary warm sense of satisfaction for the guys who have all been toiling away quietly and focused, sailing the boat to its optimum from a point two days ago where a lot of other teams might have just given up.'

'There’s a lot of variable weather going on in this leg and not all of it is panning out for some people,' Nicholson added. 'It all makes for a very unstable leaderboard.'

After leading the fleet for more than 12 hours, Abu Dhabi were relishing in the battle for the front spot in light-wind reaching conditions which suit their yacht Azzam.

Like Camper, Abu Dhabi reaped the rewards of their position to the north of the fleet, but with the fleet now sailing in upwind conditions they have had to watch on as their rivals notched up faster speeds.

'The light air reaching has been a condition where we seem to be able to hold our own against our rivals and our move to the north has paid handsome dividends,' skipper Ian Walker said.

'To be fair to Telefónica and Groupama, who look like they will be the biggest losers in the short term, it was a classic case of the fleet turning inside out.

'Somehow we need to hang in for the next 24 hours when conditions will once again open up and the fast downwind sail towards Lisbon will begin.'

Camper routing almost straight ahead for Lisbon - Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 7 - May 25, 2012 at 1300hrs UTC
Meanwhile, Telefónica and Groupama, early leaders of the leg from Miami to Lisbon, have been left playing catch-up after slipping more than 20 miles back.

But help could soon be at hand with new wind filling in that could fire them back into contention from their current fourth place.

'Basically, we couldn't do anything to avoid these guys overtaking us,' Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez said. 'They just rolled us with a completely different wind.

'Now we are just in the moment that should stop this loss because a new wind is coming again and something different is going to happen. We just hope that we're going to stop losing and start racing again to make gains.'

Franck Cammas, skipper of fifth-placed Groupama, was equally optimistic about their chances of a comeback.

'We lost the first battle but there will be a new fight with the high pressure coming through the fleet,' he said.

'There is a long way to go and for now it is very clear for everyone that we have to go to the north to go round the high pressure and await a westerly wind to go down wind to Lisbon.'

As the fleet hunt for the westerly winds that will propel them towards Lisbon, Puma navigator Tom Addis said this phase of the race could be crucial to the leg results.

'The first boat to poke out of this high into the north west then west breeze should be able to hold an advantage until close to the finish,' he said. 'There will be another fairly major compression close to the finish but we will just have to deal with that as it comes.'

The first boats are expected to arrive in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 31.

Telefonica can head north or east for Lisbon - Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 7 - May 25, 2012 at 1300hrs UTC

Puma recommended to head south - Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 7 - May 25, 2012 at 1300hrs UTC

Abu Dhabi recommended to head south - Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 7 - May 25, 2012 at 1300hrs UTC