Camper skipper, Chris Nicholson reviews their performance in the first two and a bit legs in the Volvo Ocean Race, and the team's options to improve performance, plus the difficult options for the remainder of Leg 3 through to Sanya, China
Part A of Leg 3 is now a few days behind us and Camper is currently in transit on a ship bound for a secret safehaven in the Indian Ocean where the race to Sanya will resume. The sailing team are in Dubai and we’ll spend the next few days going through a pretty intensive series of briefings on the weather and navigational challenges we can expect to face in the 4000 odd mile slog up to China.
It’s fair to say that our performance in the first part of the leg was not good enough and not what any of us were looking for. It hurt and we know we’re capable of much better. We were left wanting for speed while reaching and the other guys were simply quicker than us in those conditions. End of story. We had made some changes to the boat and by our numbers we were actually going better than what we were on the race into Abu Dhabi from Sharjah but clearly still not enough to hang onto the others.
We now need to go back to the drawing board and see what else we can do to improve our reaching speed. We’re also working with the Emirates Team New Zealand coaches on improving crew techniques and eliminating some of the little mistakes that have been costing us.
It’s important to keep things in context though. The two sprints up and down the UAE coast have been dominated by reaching conditions and the courses meant that we were limited to essentially the one heading that several of the other guys are strong on. The next stage of the leg should present plenty more opportunities for us. Firstly, there should be a lot more windward work which we believe CAMPER is a lot stronger in, and secondly it won’t be a pure boat speed race but rather a leg which will be won by being smart and keeping the boat in one piece and going the right way.
So the challenge is on us to deliver an improved performance and one that puts us at the top of the leaderboard. This won’t be easy. If I could describe the conditions for the leg in one word it would be 'worrying'. This is by far the most concerning leg for me in the race. Getting to the Malacca Straits shouldn’t be too bad but we then have to deal with countless unlit fishing boats, nets, floating debri and the risk of piracy. An encounter with just one of these obstacles could seriously set back your leg. If we make it through the Straits in one piece and in good shape we then have to face the China Sea where we’re likely to encounter boat breaking type conditions of 30 to 40 knots with wind against tide.
So if we can get towards the of the leg without a serious encounter with a fishing boat or net, and without any serious damage then I think we’ll be in good shape for a top finish.
Looking at the leg there’s some key tactical decisions that people should look out for. Going up to the Malacca Straits and how you set-up on the long port tack will be vital. If you go further towards Sri Lanka you’re likely to have less pressure but will comfortably lay through the Straits. If you go more to the south you’ll have better pressure but may but may not be able to make the entry to the Straits. Then all the way through the Straits themselves will be very interesting. The boats are all likely to be forced to sail effectively the same course meaning that those with the sail programme best suited to whatever the wind angle is are likely to have a major speed advantage over the others and may make a break on the fleet.
So all-in-all the second stage of Leg 3 is shaping up to be one of the most demanding and challenging of the race so far. This will be very different from the drag race type event we’ve seen in recent outings, and will be a leg that rewards good tactical and navigational calls and a reliable boat.