Start Leg 3: An action-packed match
Groupama in the Volvo Ocean Race
With the course initially forecast to be a long, lively reach, it came as some surprise that there were a number of upsets all the way to the finish line, piling an enormous amount of pressure on the crews for the six and half hours of racing... Vying over second and third place for a long while, Groupama 4 managed to overtake the Spanish leader over the final few miles, while her crew's defence of the leader in the overall standing left the way clear for Abu Dhabi to take victory ahead of Puma in Sharjah!
Luffing match under spinnaker!
The distances separating the boats remained very small but Ian Walker demonstrated how familiar he was with the race zone: Azzam protected the right hand side of the race zone and came back into contact with the Spanish, just 23 seconds shy of Telefonica, whilst Groupama 4 fell back into fifth place in contact with Camper and Puma. On rounding this third mark Ken Read, seeing the danger, luffed up big time to try to force an error on Franck Cammas, but the latter responded perfectly and managed to outpace the Americans under spinnaker. Groupama 4 was then in a position to attack the New Zealanders whilst the two leaders were making a break for it...
Another section of reaching did little to alter the deficits as there was less than seven knots of breeze. It was a temporary lull however because as the five crews launched into a long beat to a mark moored around ten miles off the coast, the breeze picked up to about fifteen knots. The Spanish were very at ease in these conditions and rounded the mark with a lead of over a mile in relation to the trio comprising Camper, Groupama 4 and Abu Dhabi, Puma having dropped back slightly. With the preliminary course behind them, there were three sections left to cover (23 miles + 45 miles + 17 miles): two sections with eased sheets at 80° then 120° to the true wind, and one run, the breeze having shifted round to the NW, filling to over fifteen knots.
The very long sprint, running parallel to Emirati shores, saw a considerable increase in pace since the boats were bordering on 25 knots of boat speed in the gusts from the Shamal! The seas were relatively flat and the wind was backing more and more to the North-West. The passage around the intermediary mark didn't really affect the separation but it has to be admitted that the New Zealanders weren't very quick on this point of sail. Further down the track, once the crews were able to ease the sheets a little, the Americans on Puma put up an impressive performance: they initially devoured Camper, then closed in on Abu Dhabi, which had just been gobbled up by Groupama 4!
Approaching the final mark, which heralded the ultimate battle under spinnaker, the Spanish only had a half mile lead over Abu Dhabi, Groupama 4 and Puma... Franck Cammas and his men resisted the attack from Ken Read and then decided to be the first to put in a gybe to hunt down the finish line. They were then able to pile the pressure on Telefonica, while the rest of the fleet were sailing to leeward of them. Seeing the danger, Iker Martinez luffed but was unable to prevent the French boat from dipping to windward of them. The final sprint was extremely close as Ian Walker had been able to slip along straight towards the line with Ken Read on his tail, while Franck Cammas and the Spanish had to deal with a gybe to complete this 106 mile course. There were just a few hundred metres in it as Abu Dhabi was first to cross the finish line, ahead of the Americans on Puma, who'd made a great comeback on this spinnaker sprint, Groupama 4 finishing third.
Closing down the potential
This third place by Franck Cammas and his men isn't a satisfying one in terms of score and amassing points, but it does show that the crew now has a solid mastery of contact racing, as they proved when they were under attack from Puma and Telefonica and when they were defending Abu Dhabi. Indeed the French managed to demote the Spanish by three places... It is also worth highlighting the fact that her rivals have made considerable progress in terms of speed on a reach, as was indicated by Puma's comeback during the long breezy sprint, as well as the performance by Abu Dhabi in lively conditions with eased sheets. Without doubt the potential of the crews is now very similar, though the New Zealanders don't seem to be firing on all cylinders on a reach or in light airs such as those in Saturday's In-Port race. As such, the next stage of this third leg to China promises to be thrilling!
Standing for the Abu Dhabi-Sharjah course
1-Ian Walker (Azzam) 6 points
2-Ken Read (Puma) 5 points
3-Franck Cammas (Groupama 4) 4 points
4-Iker Martinez (Telefonica) 3 points
5-Chris Nicholson (Camper) 2 points
Overall provisional standing after five races and the first part of the third leg (In-Port Alicante, Alicante-Cape Town, In-Port Cape Town, Cape Town-Abu Dhabi, In-Port Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi-Sharjah)
1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) 1+30+6+29+2+3 = 71 points
2-Camper (Chris Nicholson) 4+25+5+24+4+2 = 64 points
3-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) 2+20+2+18+5+4 = 51 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) 5+0+4+19+3+5 = 36 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) 6+0+3+10+6+6 = 31 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) 3+0+1+racing... = 4 points