Volvo Ocean Race fleet leaders locked in battle

Tony Mutter tries to rinse off after an on-deck shower. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race - The Doldrums are proving to be no match for the fleet leaders on Tuesday with Puma’s Mar Mostro and Telefónica, still locked together in a tight battle, looking set to breeze through the notorious ‘windless’ zone in under 24 hours.

Known as the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, the Doldrums are renowned as one of the trickiest areas of the world to navigate – but they posed little problem for Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg and Team Telefónica as they continued the sprint south through the Atlantic.

'This Doldrums band isn’t nearly as wide as last time,' said Puma skipper Ken Read, recalling his experience of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09. 'In the last race we parked for days. This time we might make it through unscathed. Tom Addis [Puma’s navigator] has done his homework and we think we’ve come up with a nice path.'

Puma and Telefónica have been locked in a close-quarters battle since the fleet left Alicante on November 5, and after entering the Doldrums neck and neck on Monday evening both looked set to escape by 0000 UTC on Wednesday. At the 1300 UTC position update Puma held a narrow six nm lead over Telefónica, with both maintaining speeds of more than 10 knots.

Weather experts were also forecasting an easy passage for Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama sailing team. 'Boats speeds will go down through the Doldrums but I expect a relatively fast crossing for all the teams,' said Volvo Ocean Race chief meteorologist Gonzalo Infante.

The drop in speed from the 20+ knots the leaders enjoyed over the weekend allowed third-placed Camper and fourth-placed Groupama to make back some ground. Over the past 24 hours Camper pulled back 24 nm on Puma as the fleet compressed with Groupama gaining 54 nm.

Navigator Will Oxley reads out the latest position report as Skipper Chris Nicholson listens closely onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©

On board Camper, navigator Will Oxley and co-navigator Andy McLean have been glued to the boat’s radar display, attempting to pick a route through the cloud-ridden Doldrums.

'We try to position the boat relative to big clouds,' McLean explained. 'The big clouds are either sucking air or blowing air depending on whether they are raining or not. They can increase breeze by 100 per cent or you can sit in a hole for hours so getting it right is pretty vital.'

Charles Caudrelier onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Groupama watch leader Damian Foxall said the team remained focused on speed despite being 273 nm behind Puma at 1300 UTC.

'It’s not over yet and everyone is very aware of that,' he said. 'What’s important is to take the small gains and make sure the boat is at 100 per cent, stay in touch with the others and, by the time we get to Rio in a week, other options may have presented themselves.'

The leading yachts are expected to reach the leg one turning mark Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago off the coast of Brazil, within 36 hours.

On the way to the islands they will pass the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere, the signal for traditional ceremonies during which, for reasons of superstition, first-timers must go before King Neptune and his court to be punished for former sins.

'This is not like going to a confession booth at your church or saying hello to the local petrol station pump attendant,' explained 28-year-old Kiwi sailor Brad Marsh, one of two facing the trial on Groupama alongside France's Erwan Israel.

'King Neptune and Queen Codfish have a long history of inflicting the worst punishment possible for any crimes that have occurred in the past. It is nature's way of achieving equilibrium against any wrongdoings. Trust me when I say the show is rated for adults only and not intended for younger audiences!'

Once past Fernando the teams have around 3,300 nautical miles of South Atlantic to navigate before reaching the finish in Cape Town, South Africa.

Positions on 15/11/2011 at 13:02:56 UTC
  DTLDTLCBSDTF
1PUMA0.000.010.43829.4
2TELE6.201.011.53835.6
3CMPR128.507.012.33957.9
4GPMA273.4020.016.84102.8
-ADORRetired from Leg 1
-SNYARetired from Leg 1

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