Volvo Ocean Race - A fleet divided, keep your enemies close

Stuart Bannatyne keeping weight right forward in the light light air onboard onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©
In the Volvo Ocean Race, Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) continue to maintain the lead in Leg 6 to Miami from their inshore position, 20 nautical miles off the Brazilian coast, but the fleet is clearly divided on whether sailing inshore or offshore will pay off.

The fleet is spread across the South Atlantic, and split into three groups - being the inshore (Camper and Abu Dhabi), the offshore group (Telefonica and Groupama) and Puma in the middle.

All groups are now committed to their course, which for the inshore boats will be to hug the South American coast. The offshore boats have the luxury of being able to swing to the rounding point at will.

Positions using the www.predictwind.com!Predictwind routing facility have shown the boats to be very even despite the diversity of the courses. The are expected to turn the corner in four days time, with the three maybe four leaders being covered by an hour, and in a couple of instances, just a few minutes.

Although Camper is carefully rock hopping up the coast, avoiding the Brazilian current and with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) for company, skipper Chris Nicholson would have preferred to be in closer contact with the rest of the fleet.

'You’d always prefer to keep your enemies close, but we had a bit of trouble hanging onto them on the tight reaching and, at the end of the day, that option wasn’t there for us,' he explained. Instead, the inshore duo will have to wait another 48 hours or so before the outcome of their decision becomes clear.

For the pair furthest offshore, Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas), currently in fourth and fifth places on this leg, but in first and second overall, the last 24 hours has been spent dawdling in fickle breeze. Groupama skipper Franck Cammas is happy to be offshore, viewing the inshore option taken by Ian Walker and Chris Nicholson as risky.

Positions on Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean race as of 2100hrs on 24 April 2012, UTC, and they head for the eastern most corner of the South American continent

'There’s a fair amount of instability inshore, but it’s hard to judge how many miles away you need to be,' Cammas said. 'Our aim is to gradually distance ourselves from the Brazilian coast. We’re set to hit another zone of light airs on Wednesday, and there’s even a strong chance of being forced onto a beat, which will enable us to heave even further offshore.'

The Spanish skipper, Iker Martínez agrees. 'We didn’t want to get too close to the coast, it was a choice, but now we can see that everyone has been hit by the light airs, so we will have to see what happens,’’ he said. 'We have confidence in our position the east and the boat is going well. It is a question of wind.'

It has been a tough day for Puma, as both groups started to move again, the team were parked under a big cloud, which extended as far as the eye could see. 'There is no pretty way of getting round this corner at the moment,' said Puma navigator Tom Addis, as the fleet drifted in hot sun and crystal clear water.

Jono Swain and Tony Mutter keep Mar Mostro moving in light winds, during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

With the south east trade winds still a tantalising 48 hours or so away, the immediate concern is dealing with the instability of the transition zone. At 1900 tonight Camper led the fleet from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing by 2.7 nm with Groupama in fifth place, 41.30 nm astern.

The fleet now has a lateral separation of a whisker under 100 nm, which can easily produce different breezes and different currents. During the past three hours, boat speeds have climbed back up to a promising 13.3 knots for Puma, but it is a game of patience once again.

Volvo Ocean Race website