Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Yachting: Team NZ addresses tactical blunders

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

Changes have been made to the leadership set-up aboard Team New Zealand in an effort to address the tactical blunders that have cost them over the first three legs of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The fleet will depart Sanya, China, for Auckland on Sunday in a make or break leg for the Kiwi team.

The pressure is on the Camper crew to be the first around North Head not only for the success of the stopover event, but also Team New Zealand's overall race ambitions after they lost valuable ground on leaders Telefonica on leg three.

A disastrous passage through the Malacca Straits en-route to Sanya saw Camper relegated to the rear of the fleet.

They did well to recover over the latter stages of the leg to finish third, but with Telefonica continuing their relentless charge to record their third straight win, the damage was still significant as the Spanish team increased their lead to 15 points over Team New Zealand. It was not the only incidence of poor race tactics from the Camper crew.

Early indecision cost Camper any chance of winning the first leg from Alicante to Cape Town.

Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton, who joined the team in China this week, admits he has concerns about the number of tactical errors that have been occurring on the boat and has been working with the crew to resolve the issues.

"I've been concerned about the decision-making process really since the first [error] which was coming out of the Mediterranean [on leg 1] and we're dealing with that now," he said.

The co-skipper arrangement with Chris Nicholson and Stu Bannatyne has been criticised, with some questioning the value of a collective team management approach when situations call for quick, decisive action.

Dalton denied the dual-leadership approach was to blame, instead pointing to a need to improve the tactical awareness of the navigational team and ensure opportunities to make gains are not lost.

"It's not a matter of too many cooks, definitely not, but just making the right decisions at the right time," he said.

"I think the first thing is we've got to start taking the small gains when they present themselves," said Dalton.

Changes were made to their decision-making process after the finish of the second leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, with Nicholson working more closely with navigators Will Oxley and Andrew McLean below deck to scout for any opportunities to make short-term gains.

"We've changed the focus with having Nico more into a tactical role down below.

"The guys and Nico himself told me that started to work more towards the end of the leg when Nico got used to the role."

The value of chasing short-term gains was probably best demonstrated by Telefonica on the long beat up to Sanya in leg 3.

The Spanish boat did 58 tacks up the Vietnamese coast compared to Camper's 36. Each of these tacks made small gains for Telefonica, but added up to a significant advantage.

In an effort to arrest Telefonica's charge, Dalton has also flown over Team New Zealand's sailing coaches Rod Davis and Joe Allen to Sanya to help the Camper crew sharpen up on their in-port racing.

The in-port races, which are held the day before the start of each leg, account for nearly 20 per cent of the overall points on offer in the race and therefore present a good opportunity to pick up valuable points.

Nicholson said his crew have been one of the most consistent performers in the in-port races, but there was still room for improvement.

- NZ Herald

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