Volvo Ocean Race- Tense times for Puma as breeze dies

Rome Kirby and Shannon Falcone share grinding responsibilities for the spinnaker trim, onboard Puma Ocean Racing during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.

As the breeze softens and the threat of squalls and clouds loom, it is a tense time for Leg 6 leaders Puma.

She leads this leg of the Volvo Ocean Race by 1hr 15m with second placed Camper just 40minutes ahead of overall race leader, Telefonica, according to finish time projections based on positions at 0900GMT on 4 May.

The leaders have opted to ignore the computer routing of a day or so ago, which recommended they head inshore to avoid the collapsing winds that they now find themselves in. Taking the blue course, Puma has two days of light winds of less than 10kts ahead of her before getting back into the double digit wind speeds on the afternoon of 7 May GMT.

Traditionally it has always paid to move north of the direct line to Miami, and the routing of about 36hours ago looked simpler than it does now. It would seem that they boats have decided that tactical considerations are paramount, and will stay and cover each other as a pack.

Volvo Ocean Race reports that a front has come through to the north and disturbed the trade winds, so the leading three, Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg (Ken Read/USA), Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) have compressed, and according to Puma navigator Tom Addis, there are ‘some manoeuvres going on’.

Leg 6, 0900hrs 4 May 2012, Volvo Ocean Race
'We have this little trough line to get through to reach the new high that is forming in front of us,' Addis said. He reported around 10 knots of breeze but added that it will be at least a day and a half before the fleet is into stronger pressure again.

'Yesterday was as if the brakes were slowly put on and the fun police ruined the blasting across the ocean party,' wrote Camper Media Crew Member Hamish Hooper. 'We are still averaging about 14-15 knots, but that is forecast to drop again significantly into what is threatening to be almost a drift off. What an ugly prospect.'

Camper navigator Will Oxley added: 'It looks like a very slow final 1,300 nm, with lots of potential land mines. Here is hoping we can avoid stepping on one.'

The unstable conditions make Puma very vulnerable, given the close proximity of Camper and Telefónica. 'If someone gets a squall and picks up some wind for a few hours that could turn the fleet inside out,' Addis added. 'That makes it more tense on board, no question.'

Leg 6, 0900hrs 4 May 2012, Volvo Ocean Race
Skipper Read is more than likely going to leave the Caribbean Islands to port and go around the outside. Although there is plenty of water, the islands are tall and create big wind shadows and lee shores, both of which require careful navigation.

'You’ve got to run your own plan and stick with it,' said third-placed Telefónica’s navigator Andrew Cape. 'You have to sail your own race and not follow everyone else, otherwise you will never get to the front,' he added.

'Right now, we are doing about 12 knots in 10 knots of wind, but the forecast is for 10 knots for about the next six days. Today will be a long, slow day for sure.'

Meanwhile at the front, the crew of Puma are under no illusions. 'Our speeds have been pretty good and we’ve made good decisions to date, so we don’t have to make drastic changes to the way we’re working, but we have three very well-sailed boats here, and when it’s light, anything can happen,' Addis said. 'We’d feel much more confident if it was trade winds all the way, but it is not going to be.'

At 1000 GMT today, as the leading trio approached the Caribbean Island of Antigua, Puma led Camper from Telefónica, while Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas/FRA) were in fourth place and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) in fifth, roughly 130 nm behind the leaders. Technical issues have prevented race organisers from displaying full data from the boats in the normal way.

Four routing options for Camper - Leg 6 at 1800hrs on 02 May 2012 GMT