The fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race has taken a very unexpected turn. The trio of fleet frontrunners became a duo yesterday, following the dismasting of the French boat, which was forced to suspend racing. It seems that the final 400 miles of the leg will now feature a battle between Spanish entry “Telefónica” with Iker Martínez skippering and American entry “Puma”. Pablo Arrarte confirmed: “We are going to try to close in on 'Puma'. We're going for them.”
Following the incident reported by skipper Franck Cammas, on board “Telefónica” maximum caution is being exercised and yet again, the Spanish team won't let any chances that come their way slip away, as the team's MCM Diego Fructuoso hinted at in his daily report: “Now we've got to fight 'Puma', who have the lead on us and will surely be marking us, but there are still enough miles left to push for a brand new victory.”
One thing is certain, the comeback made by “Telefónica” has been spectacular with Xabi Fernández summing it up in a few words: “We've spent three or four days since we set off from Cape Horn catching them up, sailing very fast with a weather system that was very much on our side the whole time.”
An almost perfect storm
Over the past few hours “Telefónica” has emerged from a storm that had the Spanish boat up against the wall. According to Neal McDonald, there were some pretty hairy moments on board: “It's been somewhat chaotic. We knew what we were getting into, but not that it would be so big. We had to bring down the sails, it was no time for sailing and we went into survival mode for a few minutes. It's a calmer situation now, just 13 knots, we've got the J4 up which is a small sail, just in case the breeze picks up a bit more. We'll carry on like this for a bit to see what happens. We'll have light for another hour or so, so we'll be able to take a look at the clouds and the situation.”
According to the 13:00 UTC position report, there's been a radical improvement in the situation and “Telefónica” is sailing with N-Ne winds of 14 knots and gusts of 43 knots. The American boat is 63 miles in front, and anything can happen up until the finishing line at Itajaí (Brazil).
The last few miles will be key
The key to this leg will lie in the final few miles of racing, with forecasts predicting a drop in winds, which the Spanish team will be making the most of, as the team's Basque trimmer explained from on board the boat: “We're really close to 'Puma' now and we're going to fight tooth and nail. We've got an interesting night and day ahead, so we'll see what happens. There's not long to go, so we'll have to see if they get stuck at all and we can catch them up once and for all.”
It also seems that the weather situation is going to play the way of the Spanish crew, and as Neal McDonald, watch leader on “Telefónica” points out: “Iker and Capey say that's there's a good chance of us making good miles because of the way the weather is likely to develop, not because of our speed or anything but simply because we'll have more wind. We'll keep pushing to the maximum over the next few days.”
From “Telefónica” wishes of good luck to “Groupama”
Yesterday, Wednesday, Franck Cammas announced from on board “Groupama” that the boat had dismasted at the height of the first spreader, so provisionally the French team suspended racing.
With the new situation evolving, the Spanish team were eager to send out their support to the French crew through their MCM Diego Fructuoso: “We've just found out that one of the frontrunners, 'Groupama' has suffered mast problems. We've heard that they're fine, but they'll almost surely have to stop”. The Spaniard went on to describe the tough conditions the boat was enduring down at 34ºS: “I'm sure that the last few hours haven't helped much because we haven't stopped slamming since last night, the winds have picked up and some very difficult swell to get through has formed and has meant that we've been banging around all day.”
“From here on 'Telefónica' we would like to send all of our best wishes to the crew of 'Groupama'. They are a great team and won the last leg and were fighting for a win in this one too,” said Fructuoso, who was also sad at the news, which came with just 700 miles to go until the finish at Itajaí (Brazil).
Xabi Fernández also commented on the events, saying: “It's sad news. It's always sad to hear about your rivals having problems as serious as a broken mast. It's the third broken mast in this edition of the race, and it's clear that this leg has been hard on us all and there's no doubt that it's been down to the very tough Southern Ocean conditions that we've endured this time”. The Basque trimmer concluded: “We've got to look at the fact that five boats out of the six have had problems and have had to stop at some point, and now 'Groupama' is the latest victim, just when it looked like they were finishing. These things happen, and looking on the bright side, they are 500 miles from the finish and will get there in a couple of days, I'm sure.” For now, it looks like Xabi's forecasting was on track, as the French team has taken a decision: to continue the leg on a jury rig.
The breakage has sparked some reflection aboard “Telefónica” on the multiple incidents for the six boats competing on this fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. Fructuoso said: “The number of problems the boats have had on this leg is down to the tough nature of the leg. So far only 'Puma' hasn't had to stop, although they've surely endured some 'scrapes'”. Fortunately, according to the team's MCM: “We're fairly happy all round and we've only had this small issue with the bow over the course of all of the legs, so we can definitely count ourselves lucky. We have a great boat.”
PROVISIONAL RANKINGS LEG 5
AUCKLAND (NEW ZEALAND) – ITAJAÍ (BRAZIL): 6,705 miles
Day 19 – 13:00 UTC – 5th April 2012
1. Puma Ocean Racing (Ken Read), 397 miles from finish
2. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), +63.4 miles from leader
Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas), suspended racing
Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), suspended racing
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), DNF
Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), DNF
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