Volvo Ocean Race - Battle at the head of the fleet continues

Onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.
In the Volvo Ocean Race, the battle at the head of the fleet rages on as Ken Read and Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg have managed to keep Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) at bay throughout today.

But it is tight at the top and at 1900 GMT tonight, only 1.4 nautical miles lay between Puma and Camper as the crews enjoy some of the best sailing so far in the Volvo Ocean Race. However, the perfect conditions are only likely to last for another two days and once the fleet reaches Barbuda, off the Caribbean island of Antigua light airs are forecast, which will provide a chance for Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) to re-enter the game.

'We are happy to have unstable systems ahead and a break in the trades, because things can happen in these conditions rather than in stable wind,' explained Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. 'There will be light wind and there will be options. There will be very unstable wind and could get back on track. It opens up the game.'

While the top three continue to push in a situation where each position report is classified as good or bad by gaining or losing a single mile, instead of winning or losing 20 miles as is more normal for this race, eight hours behind, Groupama and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are neck and neck. Both teams have now left the Doldrums and are trade wind sailing, although in different conditions and over 100 nm behind.

'We were 12 hours behind when entering the Doldrums and we are now less than six hours,' Cammas said. 'It’s not enough, but at least the Doldrums haven’t been too bad this time.'

At 1900 GMT tonight the leading three were in formation much like Britain’s Red Arrows aerobatic team, so often seen in the air above the start of many previous Whitbread races. Puma led from the middle, with Camper 1.4 nm behind and five miles on their port flank, 286 nm off the coast of French Guyana. Telefónica are six miles to Puma’s east and 7.3 miles behind. Speeds are averaging 22.3 nm for the past three hours with Puma and Camper perfectly matched.

Telefónica is slightly slower at 21.9. In the second wave, Groupama leads Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing by 12 miles, but are 118 nm adrift of Puma, having slipped back seven miles in the past three hours. Both Groupama and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are averaging nearly 20 knots.

Although every second counts and the crews are working hard for every mile gained, it’s still beautiful trade wind sailing. 'You don’t get too many really, really nice days like we have had recently and they are to be cherished,' noted Chris Nicholson.

Volvo Ocean Race website