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Volvo Ocean Race - A game of chess for the leading pair

by Sophie Luther - Volvo Ocean Race on 25 Jan 2012
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, Ryan Godfrey during leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Abu Dhabi, UAE to Sanya, China. Amory Ross/Puma Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.puma.com/sailing
In the Volvo Ocean Race, it is a head to head battle for the leaders with Chris Nicholson and the Camper crew nipping at the heels of Ken Read and the crew of Puma. They are 3.4 nautical miles astern and to windward. Nicholson is fully fired up to snatch whatever opportunities he can to take the red boat into the lead. Nip and tuck, a game of chess, it’s as close as it can be for these two teams.

'We’ve been hanging on and the skeds [position reports] have been so close, probably the closest I’ve ever seen,' Nicholson said earlier today.

According to the Australian skipper there is the potential for the rest of the fleet to move further to the north of Camper, as Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) has already done, and the crew of Camper has made the conscious decision to sail a little lower and faster to make small gains and protect their position. Nicholson expects to see both Puma’s Mar Mostro and third-placed Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) sail lower and faster as a reaction. 'No one will want to let us get to the east of them, because getting east puts us closer to Indonesia,' he explained.

Puma’s Mar Mostro is holding off the attack from Camper for the third day running. 'It’s nice to know the boat is up to speed and we’re going along just nicely,' Mar Mostro’s bowman, Casey Smith/AUS confirms. 'Getting round the corner of Sumatra is one thing, but the Malacca Strait is a whole different animal.'

The crew of Groupama 4, in third, are happy to have Puma’s Mar Mostro as their pacemaker. 'It’s a meticulous job with slightly open angles and little bit of speed in the wind shifts,' said helmsman/trimmer Damian Foxall/IRE of the action on the racecourse. 'Every 10th of a knot, every shift is important.'

The 3,000 nm second stage of Leg 3 from the Maldives to Sanya in China is providing some exhilarating straight-line sailing in near perfect conditions for the six-boat fleet as they close in on the waypoint of Pulau Weh, situated at the northern entrance to the Malacca Strait between Sumatra and Singapore.

Many of the boats have yet to put in a tack since the start last Sunday, bowling along on port at an even 12.5 knots. Even the cloud activity has been less than expected and for once the weather gods seem to be smiling on the fleet.

'There’s nothing too complicated going on,' said Ian Walker (GBR), skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s black yacht Azzam in fourth place, 16.8 nm behind the leader. Essentially we’re just pointing straight at the target and we only have minor decisions to make as to whether we chose the high side or the low side.' That decision will, according to Walker, depend on what he thinks the wind will do further down the track. He expects a period of 12 to 24 hours of lifting wind before it heads back in the final approach to Pulau We.

The fleet is now split over 25 nm from first to sixth place, and a lateral divide of 22 nm. On board fifth-placed Telefónica, the crew is happy with their speed. 'We have two days more with these conditions until we reach the Malacca Strait and we hope to catch up during this time. The truth is, the boat speed is good, so it is likely we will reel them in,' wrote MCM Diego Fructuoso.

Meanwhile, Mike Sanderson (NZL), who currently fills the sixth spot with Sanya, is hoping for a parking lot in the Malacca Strait. 'All our efforts at the moment are to just try to stay close enough to the fleet,' he said. Although the team is now a shade over 25 nm adrift. This leg concludes in the team’s homeport where they are sure of a huge welcome regardless of their finishing position.

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