Yachting: Pre-race jitters for Camper on Volvo's perilous third leg

By Dana Johannsen

Emirates Team New Zealand out on the water in their SL33 catamarans. Photo / Natalie Slade
Emirates Team New Zealand out on the water in their SL33 catamarans. Photo / Natalie Slade

Pre-sail nerves are nothing out of the ordinary for the teams approaching another arduous leg in the Volvo Ocean Race.

But the anxiety levels are higher than usual in the Team New Zealand camp as they gear up for what skipper Chris Nicholson describes as the most concerning leg of the race.

The fleet sets sail on leg three from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China, tonight (NZT) in what is the most demanding and high-risk leg of the 39,000-nautical-mile race around the world.

Over the next three weeks, the fleet will have to contend with several challenges including a tricky stretch of water through the Malacca Straits, where they are likely to encounter extreme weather, strong tidal currents and other obstacles such as unlit local fishing boats and dangerous floating debris.

Nicholson said the team had spent a lot of time talking about how they would manage the conditions in the upcoming leg, but that hadn't made him feel any more comfortable about the challenge.

"Leg three, to be honest, is the most concerning leg of the race for me. There are a lot of factors in this leg that are hard for us to control, but over the past year we've done a lot of homework on it," the Camper skipper said.

"Now we're just brushing up on the work we've done previously, but I still don't necessarily feel any better. We're going to be as well prepared as possible, but there's going to be a lot of risk in this leg."

As part of anti-piracy measures introduced for the race, leg three will again be split into two parts.

Race organisers have introduced a series of security measures because of the threat of pirates operating in a vast area off the coast of Somalia, the fleet being transported by armed ship through the worst-affected areas.

From Abu Dhabi they will set off on a short sprint to a safe haven port, where the boats will be loaded on to a ship for safe passage through the piracy zone. The race will then restart from a drop-off port in the Indian Ocean.

The split leg means Camper have effectively two opportunities to bridge the points difference between them and overall race leader Telefonica.

Twenty per cent of the points for the leg are on offer for the opening sprint out of Abu Dhabi, with the remainder allocated to the second stage of the leg.

But Nicholson doesn't believe the organisers have got it right when it comes down to the weighting for each of the legs.

"Twenty per cent is a lot of points to be on such a short 90-mile sprint. That's concerning because on the way up here you don't get to have any freedom of which way you go tactically.

"You have to aim straight at the line and that just comes down to pretty much who has got the legs."

Team New Zealand did not fare so well on the sprint to Abu Dhabi this month.

The Camper boat finished second in the main part of the leg, but was third in the short sprint to Abu Dhabi after failing to match the pace of Telefonica and the French-flagged Groupama.

The fleet competed in the in-port racing stage of the Abu Dhabi stopover overnight, and will set off for Sanya tonight.

Overall standings

1. Team Telefonica66
2. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand58
3. Groupama Sailing Team42
4. Puma Ocean Racing28
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing19
6. Team Sanya4.

- NZ Herald

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