“Telefónica” has been involved in a veritable tacking war with America's “Puma” whilst New Zealand's “Camper” continues to gain South and it looks like sooner or later the boat will come face to face with her rivals. The approach to Auckland (New Zealand) isn't going easy on anyone and according to the 16:15 UTC position report Iker Martínez and Ken Read's boats are positioned to the right of the fleet which it seems will allow them to sail a direct course to the finishing line.
Wild – that's the definition of the last 24 hours for the fleet, now on a “never ending upwind haul”, according to MCM Fructuoso. They've had to face harsh winds with 40 knot highs at certain points and waves of up to six metres, which have turned the Pacific Ocean into a fierce battleground for second place.
During the night “Telefónica” lost miles and positions on a tack which was more of a war declaration than anything else. The boat's most immediate rivals reacted swiftly and “Puma” manoeuvred following the Spaniards in a match race on the ocean, where there's still so much to be decided.
Antonio Cuervas- Mons, Ñeti explained the new situation, saying: “'Puma' is in front thanks to a wind shift, but there's still more than a day of fighting left. We're doing lots of sail changes... I couldn't say how many we did yesterday... quite a few, but later we were on standby in case we had to do a J1 change. Now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and there's not long to go to the finish, so I hope to have some time to rest in Auckland. Now we have to give it all we've got and if that means not sleeping very much, well, we won't sleep very much”.
Iker Martínez confirmed this morning that “'Groupama' has a pretty comfortable lead right now and if nothing strange happens they have a good enough lead to finish in front – but this ain't over till you've finished; and in any case, we're not thinking about them too much and I think they'll be able to finish in the lead. Then there are three of us bunched together. We'd managed to push away during yesterday night and now we've gone through another tricky zone and they've caught up with us again. They've got a better angle of breeze and right now we're very close together”.
The words of the skipper of the Spanish team were on target and according to the 16:15 UTC report, “Telefónica” was just 1.5 miles from “Puma” and as Diego Fructuoso said in his daily report : “The battle for the podium in this fourth leg hasn't given us a moment's breath. We've just seen 'Puma' cross our bow and tack. It's the first boat we've seen in days. I hope we'll see them behind us soon”.
Also, according to the same position report, “Camper” was 19.7 miles ahead of the Spanish team, although there's no disregarding the lateral distance lying between the two boats. “'Camper' is pushing hard and they want to get the best possible home finish. To add to this, 'Abu Dhabi' and 'Sanya' haven't had to cross the ridge we crossed and they've moved in a lot closer. It looks like apart from 'Groupama', all of the other boats are all very close together and anything can happen”, said the sailor from Cartagena.
The moment of truth
After 19 days of competition the only certain thing is that everything that's happened up until now no longer matters. The final 300 miles on the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race will be where the final podium in Auckland is decided.
With the sights firmly set on the finish and an array of possibilities are open. Iker Martínez explained: “I also think that a third place finish on the leg wouldn't be bad. 'Groupama' is clearly winning the leg and if they actually do win, they'll notch up a lot of points and they'll get a lot closer in the rankings, but right now 'Camper' is in second place and in the end it's a question of adding up the points little by little. We're approaching the halfway point on this round the world regatta and we've started to focus more on the end than on the start. We have to keep fighting, a second place is better than a third and a third is better than a fourth... We have to keep pushing. Let's see if we get a bit of the luck we've been missing out on and we can get a good result”.
Antonio Cuervas-Mons from Cantabria said: “At certain points we've even said that a third place finish would be almost a victory. If we get a second, well even better, but I think that I think that reaching the podium is more than a good enough finish for the team”.
The stopover in New Zealand will be one of the most intense up until now, with the shore crew having to get everything on “Telefónica” perfectly prepared for the coastal race on the 17th of March, just a week away.
“This stopover in New Zealand was already short in itself and now this fourth leg has got too long. With so little time, there's only a little fixing you can do, so it'll be more a question of giving everything a look-over, checking everything out, that nothing's damaged and pushing forward on another tricky leg with lots of wind which has always been pretty legendary in the round the world race. It's where you really get to see boats and crews in extreme conditions, something which we haven't had so far. We got some of that on the first leg but at that point the positions were well-defined. In short, it could be a leg where we could see some breakages and even some speed records... It will be a very all-round leg” said Iker from on board the boat.
There are still 24 hours to go until stepping onto dry land, according to the latest estimates, and following one of the toughest legs so far the mood on board “Telefónica” has been one of the keys in getting through some of the difficult times on board. Iker Martínez explained: “This is a huge team, with lots of people thinking about how to make the boat sail faster and then there are eleven crew members who get on the boat to live 24/7. Life on board is made up of 'mini-days' with three hours of rest every eight hours and four or five of working if things are stable and if there are manoeuvres to be done, the routine goes out of the window. In the end, that's how it is – short eight hour days where you have to work, sleep, eat and time flies and you're always doing something and the little time you have to rest you make the most of and that's how the days end up flying past”.
With just 300 miles to go until the finish, the desire to tie up at the city of sails is increasing by the minute with it being “colder every day, you can't imagine how eager we are to finish”, concluded Fructuoso.
PROVISIONAL RANKINGS LEG 4
SANYA (CHINA) – AUCKLAND (NEW ZEALAND): 5,220 miles
Day 19 – 16:15 UTC – 9th March 2012
1 Groupama Sailing Team (Franck Cammas), 211 miles from finish
2 Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), +88 miles
3 Puma Ocean Racing (Ken Read), +105.8 miles
4 Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), +107.3 miles
5 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), +153.1 miles
6 Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), +172.1 miles