In the Volvo Ocean Race, Team Telefonica are poised to charge into 2012 as the leaders of race after snapping up the victory over Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand in a thrilling finish to the first stage of Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.
The final 24 hours came down to an intense match race between Iker Martínez’s Telefónica, winners of Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town, as well as the Cape Town In-Port Race, and Camper. The stakes were high as the two teams headed towards the secret safe haven, with Camper needing to finish in front to leapfrog Telefónica to go top of the leaderboard.
Chris Nicholson’s team got close, leading for long periods over a thrilling final battle between Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but in the end Telefónica came through, grabbing the definitive lead with just eight nautical miles to go. They held on to finish at 1757.20 UTC on Monday, just one minute and 57 seconds ahead of Camper.
'It was a really complicated race and we were fighting all the way through,' Martínez said. 'For sure, it was really, really tough.'
The result remains provisional after Camper informed race management they had raised a protest flag over a manoeuvre made towards the end of the race.
Telefónica claimed 24 points for first place in the first of a two-stage, 5,430 nautical mile (nm) leg to from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, where 80 per cent of the available points have been awarded. Camper take 20 for second. The provisional leaderboard sees Telefónica top with 61 points, followed by Camper on 54.
The finish line was set at an undisclosed destination to protect the six-boat fleet from pirate activity. The boats will now be shipped to a point off the Sharjah coastline in the northern United Arab Emirates in time to start what is sure to be an exciting, day-long sprint to Abu Dhabi in early January for the remaining 20 per cent of the leg points.
Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg are currently in third place, followed by Groupama sailing team in fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing fifth. Team Sanya were forced to suspend racing and head for Madagascar, where they are repairing the rig and focusing on getting in shape for Leg 3 to their home port of Sanya in China.
After a brief period at the head of the fleet for both Camper and Telefónica as they fought light airs out of Cape Town, both found themselves at times near, or even at the back of the fleet.
Navigators Will Oxley and Andy McLean keeping a close eye on Telefonica from onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. - Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race© Click Here to view large photo
On day four, December 14, Telefónica crossed the notorious Agulhas Current off Port Elizabeth first with Camper in fourth place, 44 nm behind the blue boat. As the fleet fought to free themselves from a trough that had formed between two low-pressure systems, it was Telefónica who was still looking sweet, while Camper had slipped another 20 nm back. The pot of gold which was the new northerly breeze waiting on the far side of the trough seemed frustratingly out of reach.
After a couple of false starts when the weather gods gave the fleet a brief taste of northerly breeze and then whipped it away, it was Telefónica who found it first and swooped into the lead with Camper relegated to fifth place 74 nm behind. 'It’s almost like a sport now to beat this trough line,' said Camper’s Chris Nicholson on day six, December 16. 'It’s got a personality of its own, and I must say, I don’t like it. It is extremely stubborn and it is refusing to let us through.'
Martínez and Nicholson took the middle road to the east in a move, which ultimately set the pair up for a swift crossing of Doldrums. Telefónica still led, but the comeback kids on board Camper were only 2.2 nm behind, and the battle began at 35 degrees south. By day seven, after only 1,700 nm of racing, Camper temporarily regained lead and the fleet finally broke free of the trough.
The endless days of no wind and icy cold rainsqualls were now a distant memory as Telefónica, back in front, led Puma Ocean Racing and Camper into some typical trade wind sailing under a shining sun and warm water spray.
It was all about boat speed and straight line sailing on day 11, December 21, but both Telefónica but Camper had slipped down the order and were now 93 and 115 nm behind the new leader, Franck Cammas’ Groupama 4 who came swooping in from their position far south.
As the fleet split in opinion on how best to tackle the Doldrums, Telefónica and Camper, in third and fourth, set up for the eastern end and began to make steady gains as the fleet compressed on Groupama 4.
By day 13, December 23, Telefónica had jumped to the lead with Camper just 6.7 nm behind nipping at their heels. Their tour through the eastern Doldrums belt had paid off handsomely with boat speeds averaging 15 knots, while the rest of the fleet languished under big clouds with sails flapping.
The Camper crew had an early Christmas present, reclaiming the top of the leg leaderboard on Christmas Eve but any festive thoughts were dismissed as the teams prepared for the final battle to the finish with no prospect of a truce.
The final day’s racing saw the lead change on numerous occasions with just 100 metres separating the two teams for long periods. As night fell at the safe haven port it was Team Telefónica who emerged as the final victors in the closest of contests. Stealth Zone:
Race organisers have introduced a series of security measures because of the threat of pirates operating in a vast area off the coast of Somalia.
The boats are currently heading towards a safe haven port, where they will be loaded onto a lift ship for transportation through the worst affected waters and on to a point off the Sharjah coast, where they will resume racing to Abu Dhabi.
For reasons of security, the identity of the loading port is not being disclosed, which is why the Stealth Zone has been implemented.
While the fleet is in the Stealth Zone, race fans will still be able to follow the teams’ progress relative to each other via the official website race tracker, although individual boats’ headings will be distorted.
Media Crew Members will send back multimedia content as normal and the race editorial team will continue to post stories on the website every day.
The race App will not display any information other than the ranking while the boats are in the Stealth Zone in the first stage of Leg 2 and the second stage of Leg 3 but will function normally for the sprint sections in and out of Abu Dhabi.
Volvo Ocean Race website