Waiting for our chance to jump into the lead as conditions worsen

Wed, Feb 1, 2012, 00:00

MAKING WAVES:It’s cat and mouse as after 3,000 miles of racing the last leg looks like turning into a dogfight

TWO WEEKS of hard work have at last paid off for the 11 of us on board Groupama.

We’ve cleared the notorious Strait of Malacca and passed Singapore almost without incident and now we’ve firmly glued to overall race leader Iker Martinez on Telefonicaabout a mile ahead of us.

Over the past few days, we’ve come as close as one boat length, near enough to chat to them and perhaps if this weren’t the Volvo Ocean Race, we’d probably have some banter for the uniqueness of the occasion after 2,000 miles of constant contest.

But we live in our own little bubble, them in theirs and we’re completely focused on improving our position from second in this to a stage victory in China next weekend. We’re third in the overall race standings but we have an opportunity to improve this to second before we reach the halfway point in New Zealand next month.

So for now, the game is cat and mouse with Telefonicadoing their job of covering our every move and ours of waiting for our chance to duck into the lead when the conditions come to favour us.

Behind us, Ken Read on Pumais recovering from a delay after hitting a lump of wood in the strait and then on Monday grounding on a sandbank in the shallows near Singapore.

All three lead boats are within sight of one another and as long as it stays this way, the final approach into Sanya from Friday is certain to become a dogfight.

Further back, Chris Nicholson on Camperhas managed to roll Ian Walker on Abu Dhabiwhich isn’t good for our overall position as we need as much distance between our finishing-place and the Kiwis to climb up the overall standings and “Nico” is still second overall.

Our route down the strait was fairly uneventful and we managed to hold some breeze though a large light patch for former race winner Mike Sanderson on Team Sanyahas dropped him to 180 miles behind and he is faced with placing last coming into his namesake home port.

Read had his issue with the driftwood and we managed to get a plastic bag caught around our keel that dragged us back from Telefonicafor a while over the weekend. At least it wasn’t more serious. And we’ve all had to deal with the hundreds of commercial vessels along this route.

Our charts are not terribly accurate in this region and there are plenty of rocks and small islands. Instead of tacking with a minute or two to go, we’re altering course 20 minutes earlier than normal to allow a bigger margin of error.

Between the lookout for other traffic and constant sail changes in the changeable conditions, our watch routine has slipped badly. At first, it was four hours becoming six and then changed into a double-watch until soon, we were lucky to get six hours rest a day in total, snatched in between manoeuvres.

We’re now into the South China Sea and beating into the breeze that is pleasantly tropical. But it’s not going to stay that way.

Over the next few days as we progress northwards towards Sanya on Hainan Island, the wind is going to build close to gale force. The sea state will also worsen and we’ll have five-metre waves by tomorrow.

Initially, Telefonicashould gain when going upwind but we also expect some close reaching wind angles which will hopefully deliver a chance for us to overtake. But the forecast is for another beat to the finish so it’s pretty certain that barring boat damage in the big seas we’re in for a match race finish after 3,000 miles of racing.