Volvo Ocean Race- In search of the pot of gold

Watch Captain Stu Bannatyne pondering his options and what to do next 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©

They’re the most easterly boat in the Volvo Ocean Race fleet – but Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson says his crew haven’t yet found the ‘pot of gold’ waiting for them on the other side of a weather front.

A band of low pressure currently blocks the path east for all six teams, slowing their progress and keeping them at bay from the northerly winds they are searching for, as the fleet works its way through Day 5 on the Volvo Ocean Race, and close up over the past 24 hours.

The team that makes it through first will reap the dividends.

'We’re all fighting against the edge of the trough line,' the Australian skipper said. 'It’s certainly proving difficult to get through. It’s frustrating but it also keeps it interesting.

'It’s not easy at all – there have been a lot of sail changes and it’s extremely hard on the boat with the wave conditions.

Position reports as at 1156hrs on 16 Decemver 2012

'Everyone knows there’s a pot of gold on the other side of this line and if you can get into it you’ll get a good break.'

Nicholson revealed Camper came tantalisingly close to getting through two days ago – and predicted the team could now be free of the front tomorrow.

We had a northerly of about 18 knots for about five minutes or so. We had our fingers crossed that we were through but in the end it was not to be. We were very, very close. Will [Oxley, navigator] and Andy [McLean, co-navigator] reckon it will probably be tomorrow.'

With confused seas caused by the meeting of southwesterly and northerly ocean swells, Nicholson said conditions on board were challenging with the boat slamming hard off the waves.

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

'We’ve been sailing along in a sou’wester but the problem is we’re so close to getting into the northerlies that we’re seeing the northerly swell along with the sou’west swell,' he said. 'It’s very hard on the boat and on the rig.

'I’m a little surprised there haven’t been any breakages on any of the boats, it’s been very hard landing.'

Nicholson said the plan of action on board Camper was to keep plugging away at the front in the hope of being the first to break through.

'It’s almost like sport now to beat this trough line,' he said. 'It’s got a personality of its own, and I must say I don’t like its personality. It’s extremely stubborn and it’s refusing to let us through.

'We’ll keep chipping away at it. We only need a small window to open up and we will slide through. We’re the most easterly boat and we’re pushing right into it. Hopefully we’ll get a break.'

Sailing a Volvo 70 is rarely a dry experience, as evidenced here by PUMA Ocean Racing in the Indian Ocean. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

The official report reads:

As the fleet racing in Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi slogs across the Indian Ocean, the positions remain unchanged as the waiting game continues. Overall race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) is still topping the leg leaderboard, but there has been some place swapping on the lateral north/south divide as the fleet lines up for the new northerly breeze waiting just out of reach.

Overnight, Franck Cammas and his men onboard Groupama 4 briefly flirted with a more northerly option, changing places with Camper (Chris Nicholson) and Puma’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read), but the Frenchman has dived south once again, convinced that this will be the best option to line up his team for the new breeze.

Around 1900 UTC on Thursday, Camper looked sweet as a northerly breeze filled in and the team thought they had reached the pot of gold, but it wasn’t to last. 'We had a northerly of about 18 knots for about five minutes or so. We had our fingers crossed that we were through, but in the end, it was not to be. We were very, very close,' said skipper Chris Nicholson.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

It’s a constant study of weather information for the navigators cooped up below, while on deck the crews wrestle with a plethora of sail changes on a boat that is shaking and crashing about, no doubt giving cause for concern, given the boat-breaking conditions.

In third position, Mike Sanderson and Team Sanya are fully charged and enjoying the challenge, but the crew is aware there is a big decision to make. 'Do we take the more traditional route and push east into the high pressure, or go with what the weather router wants us to do and head north?' questions Sanderson.

At present, the fleet is herding towards the more easterly traditional route, with Camper the most easterly boat, but, as Sanderson says, ‘There is a potential race-winning move on the cards for someone.' According to Sanderson it is highly likely to be a winning or a last place move, so a little more homework is required.

Franck Cammas at the navigation station onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Team Telefonica during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)
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