Iker Martinez’ team won today’s in port race while Camper had a shocker, the points gap is widening

Since the start of the race in Alicante, Telefonica’s dominant performance in the Volvo Ocean Race has been restricted to the high scoring, long offshore legs where she has won all three. Her inshore performance has been at best erratic, until today where winning the in port race in Sanya, China suggested that the Spanish team are resolving their issues inshore.

The result, combined with a disastrous race for Camper gives Telefonica an 18 point lead over the second placed team who, despite drafting in some specialist help in the form of Emirates Team New Zealand coaches Rod Davis and Joey Allen in order to work on their inshore performance, had a shocker in China today. In a lacklustre performance they managed to scrape a fourth from what looked more likely at times to be last. The exercise was more a case of damage limitation than a strategy to haul in the seemingly invincible Team Telefonica. 

The 1 hour race which started at 0600 GMT saw the Spanish team lead from the start around two laps of an ‘L’ shaped course and saw a decebt albeit shifty breeze of around 20 knots and flat waters.

Telefónica commanded the lead from the start, rounding the first mark with a 28-second lead over their rivals before a rare error at the second mark saw Ken Read’s PUMA close the gap to just three seconds. However nothing could stop Telefónica romping to victory, eventually winning by a margin of 41 seconds.

“Today the tactics were what made the difference,” said Telefonica skipper Iker Martínez. “We were really in the right place for the upwind legs and the first downwind too. Even if we weren’t great at manouevres, we were in the right place and that’s what mattered.”

Among those teams who have had to dig deep and recover with crushing blows, Ken Read’s Puma Ocean Racing team must have been hoping that their second place today marks a turn in their fortunes.

“We’re happy with second,” he said. “We didn’t have a great start, we had the end we wanted, but I think the start kind of sealed our fate with Telefónica. We wanted to get to the right, and they beat us to the right and that really turned out to be the race. They didn’t’ make any mistakes they never do. But we were in the A division today, the two of us had a good little race and a good little battle. That was a good boat race today and I think our team are very happy.”

Meanwhile Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker who, amid the team’s roller coaster ride so far, have frequently managed to get onto the podium for the in port races.

“I’m not frustrated to get third,” he said. “We made a great start – we wanted the left and it paid to go right. Having a bad start and being forced to go right actually helped Telefónica. The right paid so hard we set ourselves up to go that way down the run but then the right came good. We had two great chances to get a big jump on the fleet but it didn’t work out. Any result on the podium is good, so not a bad day for us.”

Among those also trying to smooth out erratic performances was Frank Camas’ Groupama who have found several new gears since arriving in Abu Dhabi and are now rated as a serious risk by their competitors. But today was not their day scoring a fifth.

But, in a race that is seeing large shifts in fortune sweep through the fleet like a virus, it was Camper’s turn to deal with a disappointing blow to morale.

“You sit back now and I feel very disappointed, and I’d hate to think how we’d be feeling if we stayed back where we were in last,” said skipper Chris Nicholson. “We clawed back through these guys in very shifty breeze, and you know, we missed the first shift out of the start. The guys who we basically beat off the line, we gassed them, were forced out to the right and sometimes that happens.

“We thought we would have delivered better than that today, you’d have to say. We’ve had a good week of training and practice starts, we’ve been getting off the line well, you know, you can’t hide the fact that we wanted to do better than that today.

“We all believe that we had improved our communication this week, and this was a good time to show that improvement. The fact that we didn’t’ show it doesn’t mean the improvements not there, but I guess we’ll see that in the future. It’s all part of it, we’ve got to sit back and have a look at the day and there were a few good teams behind us, but just a few more in front of us. I honestly don’t’ think it’s overestimating the ability of the team, I just think you have to look at it in context. It takes more than one race to prove it. Until today we’ve been a pretty solid in-port boat.

“The mood is sombre; we wanted to do better than that. It was quite a shifty day, and we thought we got out well at the start, but then there was a shift to the right that we didn’t get onto. We were well back at the top mark, it was the usual story, we kind of fought our way through but we just ran out of time. We thought going into today we were going a lot better than we had been. It may take a bit more time to prove that. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Tomorrow (Sunday 19 Feb) sees the start of the 5,220 nautical mile Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland at 1400 local time (0600 UTC).

The forecast for this 5220 nautical mile leg has been the talking point all week. Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante is forecasting a monsoon to develop to the north of Taiwan resulting in north easterly winds of between 35 and 40 knots across the South China Sea.

The leg start will be streamed live at www.volvooceanrace.com