Yachting: Team NZ backs Camper to survive brutal test

By Dana Johannsen

After some smooth sailing Volvo Ocean Race boats will face hurricane force winds and churning seas. Photo / Richard Robinson
After some smooth sailing Volvo Ocean Race boats will face hurricane force winds and churning seas. Photo / Richard Robinson

Team New Zealand are looking for a change of wind direction and a change of fortune in the next leg of the Volvo Ocean Race - the Southern Ocean passage.

The fleet will set sail for Itajai in Brazil tomorrow afternoon on a leg that will take them through the most remote and inhospitable stretch of open ocean a sailor can encounter.

The Southern Ocean is a source of fear and inspiration to competitors in the round-the-world race, who know all too well the dangers involved in sailing there, yet still long to test themselves in the toughest conditions on Earth.

When asked at yesterday's skippers' press conference to sum up their feelings about the upcoming leg in just one word, "cautious", "anxious" and "respectful" were the answers provided.

After spending most of the first half of the race bashing their way upwind or sailing across the wind, the prospect of enjoying some fast running in this next leg is a welcome change for the six skippers.

None more so than Camper skipper Chris Nicholson, with his boat showing good speed in the small glimpses of downwind sailing the fleet has seen.

But more importantly, with hurricane-force winds and churning seas expected to test the crews, he backs his boat to stay in one piece in the brutal conditions.

"One thing we confirmed [in the last leg] is that the boat is incredibly reliable, we never had to back off once during the whole leg which gives us really good confidence to keep pushing the boat on the next few legs," said Nicholson.

Knowing when to push their boat and when they need to pull back will be the key challenge for the skippers in the next leg. Puma skipper Ken Read said the difficulty was you never really knew how close you were to the edge until you stepped over it.

"The skipper has to keep some semblance of control on this wild animal. It's not easy - even when the guys are trying to back off sometimes it's really difficult to back off. We're going have to be respectful of where we're going but at the same time it is a race, so it's a tough balance," said Read.

Puma was the second boat into Auckland behind the French entry Groupama and, like Team New Zealand, Read is targeting this leg as an opportunity to claw back further points on the leading boats.

After the first three legs were dominated by Telefonica, the success of Groupama in leg 4 and the rapid improvement of Puma has thrown the door on the race wide open.

But Telefonica skipper Iker Martinez believes the door has been open from the beginning.

"Winning the first three legs was amazing for us, but we knew it would be very difficult to keep going like that. The teams are very close, the level is very high - there are going to be some more boats winning legs for sure," the Spanish skipper said.

The first opportunity to pick up points will be in today's in-port race on the Waitemata Harbour.

With organisers setting the course on the inner harbour, there will be good viewing opportunities for both on-water spectators and those on land.

After a huge turnout on the water for Camper's arrival last Sunday, another big crowd is expected to turn out today - placing pressure on the local entry to put on a good show.

"For sure I think the crowd is going to turn up. If the welcome we received on Sunday is any indication, it's going to be a huge day all-round," said Nicholson. "There's plenty of pressure on, but there always is."

Volvo leaderboard

* Telefonica 121
* Groupama 103
* Camper 98
* Puma 78
* Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 53
* Team Sanya 22.

- NZ Herald

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