Yachting: Heavy weather to follow heavy criticism for Camper

Camper. Photo / Getty Images
Camper. Photo / Getty Images

If stinging criticism from Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton wasn't enough to wake the crew on Camper, forecasts of 35-knot winds and 6m-7m swells should snap them out of any drowsiness after two weeks in port.

The fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race gets under way on Sunday when the fleet sail from Sanya, China, for Auckland. So far Camper haven't lived up to expectations, with a combination of tactical errors, bad luck and unfavourable conditions allowing Telefonica to open up a 15-point lead over Camper at the front of the fleet.

The next two legs should suit the Team New Zealand boat more, given their speed downwind, and the race into Auckland looms as must-win if they are to peg back Telefonica.

Heavy weather is forecast to greet the fleet at the start gun but, while Camper are confident their boat are better equipped to handle it than most after extensive pre-race testing in rough conditions, Camper helmsman/trimmer Tony Rae knows they will need to be careful.

"It's a fine line between driving your car down a gravel road full speed into pot holes and knowing when to back off before something falls off,'' he said from Sanya.

Dalton doesn't usually back off _ he's a veteran of seven round-the-world races _ and he made his thoughts about Camper's performance to date known. He criticised tactical errors made on the first and third legs which cost the team dearly and has made changes in the decision making process in the afterguard. He has also recruited Team New Zealand's sailing coaches Rod Davis and Joe Allen to help the Camper crew sharpen up on their in-port racing.

Rae, who sailed with Dalton in the 1993/94 campaign onboard Endeavour, accepts the criticism.

"You have to have pretty thick skin when you do these campaigns,'' he said. "You can't get upset when someone criticises you, especially when it's someone like Dalts.

"I have known Dalts for a long time. His enthusiasm is amazing and will to win is something else. He's seriously competitive. That's a good thing because it trickles down the Team New Zealand culture. It's drilled into everyone. He wants to win that badly, and it doesn't matter if it's a practice race, a paddling race in the harbour or swimming race. He expects you to win and, if not, there needs to be a good reason.

"I completely understand where he's coming from. We are giving it 100 per cent.''

The fleet will take a route to the north of the Philippines before heading south towards New Zealand. The brains trust on board each boat will need to make important decisions soon after rounding the Philippines on whether to head east in the hope of finding stronger winds or taking a more direct route to Auckland. While the boats have shown themselves to be relatively equal when in the same conditions, huge gains and losses can be made when sailing in isolation.

After their mistakes earlier in the race, the Camper crew will hope they make the right decisions on the 5220 nautical-mile leg.

Rae said they were treating the fourth leg like any other ("we won't be trying any harder than we can because we have been giving it 100 per cent'') but it is important not only for Camper's chances overall but also to capture the attention of the New Zealand public.

"It would be just fantastic to lead into Auckland and we will be doing everything we can to make that happen,'' he said. "There's still a long way to go yet with a lot of different legs and parts of the world to negotiate. It's a matter of keeping it all together.''

That will be one of the main priorities in the next few days.

- APNZ

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