In the Volvo Ocean Race, the next thousand nautical miles will have the Volvo Open 70 fleet on port tack and in a drag race that will take them across the southern tip or Sri Lanka and into the Bay of Bengal toward the way point at Pulau We and the entrance of the Malacca Strait, nine miles off the northernmost tip of Sumatra.
The landmass of Sri Lanka is continuing to produce a wind shadow, which has slowed the fleet, but once clear of the island and out across the Bay of Bengal, about 125 miles to east of the fleet, the breeze will pick up and the charge towards the barn door will begin in earnest.
There is little in the way of tactics that can be deployed at this stage of the game to gain an edge and the racing continues to be largely a drag race where boat handling and sail choice are the deciding components. However, late this afternoon at 1525 UTC, Mike Sanderson (NZL) made a tactical decision to ditch the south, take a hitch to the north, and get back in the mix.
Sanderson had little to lose in crossing behind the fleet and clawing his way up for half an hour or so before tacking back onto port. When the fleet hardens up on to the wind again in the approach to Pulau We, the north will be the strong position. 'We have a slight speed deficit on the new boats,' explained Sanderson today. His tactic is to stay in touch as best he can before the fleet reaches the Malacca Strait, where he hopes there will be a ‘restart’ of sorts.
Camper (Chris Nicholson/AUS) remains the most northerly of the fleet in a lateral split of some 12 nautical miles (nm), eight miles to weather of third-placed Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA). Nicholson is staying on top of his game by sailing Camper as if it were an Olympic dinghy, with a tweak here and a trim there. 'You can hear our winches going non-stop on deck all the time, 24-hours a day,' he says.
Meanwhile, leg leader Read and his men had a lucky escape with Puma’s Mar Mostro after a brief encounter with a boat fishing with a long net earlier today, fortunately during daylight hours. 'We probably lost a quarter mile to all the troops around us, but had that happened at night, we would still be floundering around inside the net,' explained Read. Mar Mostro leads Camper by 1.40 nm.
Three miles behind, the largely French crew of third-placed Groupama 4 are feeling rather smug. 'Nice fight,' said Cammas. 'Rather satisfying in terms of speed,' he added, both pleased and relieved that his boat is shaping up well against strong opposition.
Conversely fifth-placed Ian Walker (GBR) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam is struggling to compete, or even to find the elusive ‘fifth gear’. According to Walker, the team has tried every possible sail configuration to try to match the performance of those around them, but is just not quite achieving it. It is frustrating for the British skipper although the team is enjoying sparring with overall leader Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) who at 1900 UTC this evening had just rolled over the black boat to take up fourth place.
Volvo Ocean Race website