Leg 2 Update: The Best Race We Never Saw

Telefonica wins the offshore portion of Leg 2 as the fleet crosses the finish line in the Stealth Zone.

Ryan O'Grady, a veteran follower of the Volvo Ocean Race and a top amateur sailor, is providing regular insight and analysis on the 2011-'12 Volvo Ocean Race for SailingWorld.com. To get the full picture of this dynamic race, follow the racing in our Finish Line forum, track the fleet, and catch up on the race with O'Grady's previous Volvo Voyeur blogs.

In one of the most thrilling ends to any ocean race, Team Telefonica won the offshore portion of Leg 2 by mere minutes over rival CAMPER/ ETNZ after 15 frustrating days at sea. CAMPER had been leading the fleet to the “secret port” since emerging from the Doldrums on Christmas Eve, but Telefonica was not going to give their Kiwi rivals an early Christmas present. From onboard CAMPER, MCM Hamish Hooper reported, “Just after dusk (1:30pm GMT) this leg of thousands of miles between 6 boats morphed into a full-on match race to the finish with the blue boat. Just after dawn (12:30am GMT) nothing has changed other that Telefonica are literally a few hundred meters to leeward of our transom. It sure simplifies things- just stay between them and the finish line and we will cross it first. If only it will be this simple.”

Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain finishes first in to the safe haven port on stage 1 of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 from Cape Town, South Africa, to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Photo Credit Must Read: PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race)PAUL TODD paul@outsideimages.co.nz

PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race
Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain finishes first into the safe haven port on Stage 1 of Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 from Cape Town, South Africa, to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Simple it wasn’t. In an awesome display of sheer boatspeed, Telefonica overcame a deficit of nearly 24 miles and rolled CAMPER just 8 miles short of the “secret port” finish line. So close was the pass that CAMPER attempted to luff Telefonica. (CAMPER subsequently protested, then dropped their protest over the incident.) Surely, CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson and crew will be mulling over this painful loss and trying to figure out how best to add horsepower to their Botin-designed Volvo 70, after two straight legs of being clearly slower than the Juan K boats in a variety of conditions. Telefonica’s last minute win also solidifies their position at the top of the scoreboard, stretching their lead over CAMPER to eight points.

Further back in the fleet, Puma and Groupama are also locked in their own private match race for third place. Entering the Doldrums, these boats were vying for the leg lead, with Groupama 76 miles in front of second-place Puma Ocean Racing by BERG. Both teams entered the Doldrums to the west and quickly hit a light air wall. From onboard Puma, MCM Amory Ross summarized their plight. “We’re still 'in for it' out here, having again suffered another night of localized misfortune thanks to another windless cloud we couldn’t evade. The guys worked so hard yesterday to make up lost miles from night number one, and were rewarded. A great afternoon with steady winds and consistent direction saw us sail back into this race; at one point Groupama was 9 miles away. But night number two was no less cruel, and we now find ourselves back another 30 or so from them, they having missed our hole. Telefonica and Camper to our east seem launched, too. All it takes is one cloud. One incredibly nasty, mean, unkind cloud, and we keep finding them in the dark. It literally takes the wind out of our sails.”

The Doldrums can destroy even the best sailors, and often it pays to not be the first boat to the region. Both CAMPER and Telefonica were able to watch the leaders slowing with each fleet update. Since the west was a parking lot, both boats hedged to the east. From onboard CAMPER, Hamish Hooper describes the decision: “Another intense day in the nav station, weighing up the pros, cons and every other imaginable factor in what could be the biggest call of the whole leg. With the decision came instant action, nothing major, just a subtle change of bearing, a slight change of trim, but most importantly the change of focus was no longer, which way is best to go, but that’s the way we are going, and we are going to sail it as hard and fast as we possibly can. We have boats to chase down, and we will use every inch of water there is until the finish line to do it.” Within two days, CAMPER and Telefonica went from 100 miles behind to 100 miles ahead and never looked back.

At the moment, Puma has around 100 miles to finish and a 24-mile lead over Groupama. Groupama's skipper, Franck Cammas, seems resigned to a fourth place finish, saying "It's frustrating for us because a few days ago our thoughts were about winning the leg, but now I think there is no chance of catching PUMA now and we just have to accept the result." Since the most exciting parts of this leg have been in the Stealth Zone, we've been unable to see most of the action, but the latest video update from Volvo does a great job of highlighting the past few days of sailing, as well as what it's like to celebrate Christmas on a bucking Volvo 70.

Fifty miles further back, Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team is also doing some soul searching. Coming in last to their homeport was not the situation any member of the team was expecting. “It was a tough leg for us once we split from the fleet in the Southern Ocean section.” Ian reflected. “Each team was sailing very well, and it seemed as if we were always just falling off the systems that were carrying the leaders ahead. In the end we had one last go at the leaders, making up a massive amount a miles in a matter of 24 hours coming into the Doldrums. But again, the fleet was sailing very consistent and each managed to protect their lead on us. Now we are looking forward to part B of the journey, and getting home to Abu Dhabi.”

Team Sanya has yet to officially retire from Leg 2, but all indications are that the new rigging will not be ready in time to allow them to reach the “secret port” before the Leg 3 start. Future Fibres is currently retrofitting Sanya’s carbon rigging from a continuous system to a discontinuous system, the same change made by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in Cape Town.

Once Abu Dhabi finishes, all of the boats will be loaded on a ship for transport to the Persian Gulf. A short sprint, worth the same points as an In-Port Race, will then follow on or around New Year’s Day to bring the fleet from the Sharjah coastline to port. In the meantime, the sailors will get a chance to enjoy a belated holiday with their loved ones without the worry of miles gained or lost.