Rob Salthouse and Stuart Bannatyne eating breakfast onboard Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil.
In the second of the series, the Volvo Ocean race media team talk with some of the most experienced sailors in the Volvo Ocean Race, here they catch up with three-time competitor Rob Salthouse, helmsman/trimmer on fourth-placed Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand.
There’s just two legs and three in-ports left and Camper are one of four boats in with a shot at winning, behind Groupama, Telefónica and Puma. Did you ever think it would be this close?
Absolutely. When we first started putting our campaign together we knew it was going to be close. Out of all the races I’ve done this one is the closest – it’s going down to the wire.
Why is this race so close?
It’s close because when you bring a new design into any fleet there’s quite a wide base to the designs, and there are big variances in the designs and the way the boats are put together. As the design evolution comes together the parameters of each of the boats get narrower, and that’s what we’re seeing now. Yes, there are different looks within the fleet but in terms of performance they are achieving very similar things. With the three Juan K boats (Telefónica, Groupama and PUMA) you can see they have different performance strengths but at the end of the day across the board it evens out. We’re definitely seeing the results of that and that’s why this race is so tight.
How vital are the remaining points up for grabs?
It could come down to one or two points so you have to take everything you can to make sure you’re there at the end, and you’re not saying ‘if only’ at the finish in Galway.
How do you see things playing out?
At the end of the day you’d like to be sitting where Groupama are going into the final few legs but that puts pressure on them. For some of us it goes the other way a little bit. We have nothing to lose so we’ve just got to go out, do what we need to do, sail hard and sail fast, and look at upsetting a few people.
Do you change your approach to the next two legs given that they’re much shorter than previous stages?
Not really. We’re still doing all the same stuff weather-wise. We might change the configuration of the boat a little bit but in general terms we go out at the start of every leg to win. That’s always the goal.
Do you push the boat and yourselves harder knowing you’re only going to be at sea a short amount of time?
We always push the boat hard, and that’s one of the things with this race – the racing is so tight that you push 110 per cent all the time and you never back off. That’s why in some legs you see breakages – because we’ve potentially pushed a little too hard – but that’s the nature of the race, it’s why it’s so much fun and why we do it. You are sailing these boats at 110 per cent all the time.
What’s going to give the winning team that killer edge?
It’ll be the team that goes from here and is consistent, that doesn’t make mistakes. The boat that’s on top at the moment has made the least mistakes in the last three legs and they’ve got the benefits out of that.
Will the vast experience on board your boat give you an advantage in the final stage of the race?
It’s certainly not going to hurt us. However, we’ve got six professional teams here, six teams of good sailors. Any of the teams can do well on their day, and any of them can do badly. We’ve seen that in a number of the in-port races. For example, Telefónica had a good track record going into the in-port in Miami and ended up last. The courses are so tight that one mistake, one error, or even just the breeze dropping out, could allow the guys to come through from behind. A lot relies on the starts, and I think you’ll see a lot of people focusing on that, and the rest will play out from there.
What lies in store for Leg 8?
The likes of Groupama will probably sail a bit of a tighter race. They’ll try to protect their lead, try not to do anything silly and hope for a bit of reaching at the finish where they can stretch their legs. I don’t think you’ll see that big a spread in the fleet. The shorter the course, the less opportunity there is for a spread. I think it will be a pretty tight boat race with some pretty exciting sailing. Those at home will have a fair few sleepless nights watching it I think!