The Volvo Ocean Race’s Pro-Am Race is supposed to be a casual affair: Let the sponsors and guests turn the handles, ask questions, and enjoy the sensation of wind blowing across their sunburned faces and the rumble of the generator swinging the keel through tacks. But the pro-am results don’t count, of course. The impression does. Go through the motions. Show the guests a good time. Let them drive a spell or two.
That’s what you’re supposed to do, but on Friday onboard mar mostro, in the first race of three Pro-Am contests, Ken Read never once relinquished the helm to his guests. In the calm, stifling morning heat off Miami, I sensed that even though the Pro-Am laps counted for nothing, all the talk about the leaderboard and the potential for an upset come Galway in July were winding him up like a corkscrew. The end is near and it’s now or never for his team to make a move in the standings.
Or maybe he’d been through this pro-am exercise so many times at this point in the race that he just wanted to “get it done.” The real deal was the one that would follow the next day: The Miami In-Port race carried more importance than points. It had a lot to do with momentum, head games, and the anxiety of scratching at the lead.
Five minutes into the Miami In-Port Race, however, it wasn’t looking pretty for Read and co. With a bad start and a heaping pile of leverage on the fleet, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by Berg was alone at the back of the fleet.
“Moose and us were looking for the same spot on the line, and he did a better job of it. It’s that simple, and a little pin-ball and we quickly got behind,” said Read after racing. “Two extra tacks, plus getting shoved out into the current—that’s not how you want to start the race. But we knew this race was going to be full of opportunities and no quit and everything else.”
No quit indeed. While Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Telefonica immediately locked together at the front of the fleet—thanks to Abu Dhabi‘s excellent start—Read had to simply wait for opportunities to come rolling his way.
“We knew as soon as the squall went overhead before the start that it was going to get weird,” he said after racing. “That breeze wasn’t going to last so it was a matter of who shifted up to the big sails first and who started with the right sail.
“We were surrounded by squalls today so it was a matter of figuring out which one was going to win out and which one was going to dominate. It was a hard tactical day, and at the same time, we had to avoid all of that stuff because there was a half-knot of current on the beach and two-plus at the weather mark.
“We knew we were going to get stuffed so we had to minimize damage at that point. But we felt like we had enough time to get back into it because it was going to be a long course, and as long as there was breeze there’d be a lot of mark roundings and a lot of opportunities.”
Opportunities came aplenty as the wind went progressively lighter and shiftier throughout the afternoon. Telefonica, first around the first weather mark, coughed up its lead to Groupama on the third leg, and the wheels on the Spanish boat started falling off from there—one at a time. The overall race leader’s ownership of last place was assured when they hit a mark mid-way through the race and wallowed through their light-air penalty turn.
“There were a lot of flags out there today, and I’m kind of stunned there weren’t a lot of fouls called,” said Read. “I saw a few, and we might have taken one, too. I thought we had to go against us, and we could have easily been dinged for one, too. So I was surprised that the judges were pretty quiet today except the one time that was blatant, and that was Telefonica hitting the mark.
“They had to tack real close to the mark because if they stretched it out just a little bit more, we would have had a port-starboard on them easily, so they had to go right around the mark, there was a heap of current and light air. They had to tack, couldn’t accelerate, and the current just dragged them into the mark.
While Abu Dhabi and Groupama battled for the lead for the remainder of the race—Abu Dhabi ultimately winning their third In-Port Race, the overall scoreboard compressed when PUMA collected an impressive come-back third to Camper‘s fourth. (Camper suffered in the opening minutes of the race, sailing with a smaller jib than the rest of the fleet.) The net result: With three offshore legs and three In-Port Races remaining, there’s only a 14-point spread across the top-four boats. Suddenly, Telefonica doesn’t look so safe, and Groupama is breathing down their neck. For PUMA and Camper, it’s now a point between them for third.
Highlights from the In-Port Race:
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