Monday, 6 April 2009

VOR: Play of the Day: Two for One

Telefonica Blue leads the fleet home in the Light In-Port race in Rio. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Mark Chisnell

Just one race, but two plays of the day in the Light In-Port Race in Rio de Janeiro - since both relied on a little bit of luck to convert a plan into an opportunity, and then into a result.

It was the third day of light-wind in-port racing out of the four so far, but the short-course format and the dynamic acceleration of these powerful boats always provides plenty of action, and the eventual winner, Telefonica Blue, came from deep at the first windward mark.

But the first play of the day was on the start line, when Ken Read lined PUMA up on port tack with a minute to go. Those with good memories will recall that Ericsson 4's first race, port tack start was the play of the day in Qingdao - Torben Grael rolled down from the pin, ducked Green Dragon and Telefonica Blue, sailed over the top of a late-starting PUMA and into the lead at the mid-course gate.

Interesting then, that Ken Read's return to form on a start-line he had previously dominated, until two shocking efforts in Qingdao, was using the same strategy that Grael had used so effectively in China. The port tack start has its risks - a starboard tack boat in the wrong place at the wrong time can really ruin your day. Someone late on the line, but not so late that you can't cross in front of them, for instance, will leave you with nowhere to go.

Fortunately for Ken Read, Roberto Bermudez de Castro had Delta Lloyd at pace and on time a couple of lengths from the committee boat. It left a perfect gap for PUMA to skim their transom and start at full speed. And once they were off the line cleanly, they controlled their own destiny all the way to the windward mark.

And that was the key to a second place finish for PUMA - they led round the windward mark, because they could pick the places to tack, rather than being forced to do so by other boats. In fact, so important was clear air and the choice of lanes, that the boat that did best from the group that started together at the pin buoy was actually Ericsson 3. Magnus Olsson and his leg five winners were forced to tack away first after not being able to hold their place in the starboard tack line up - and that's normally death.

The only reason that Ericsson 3 didn't lead around the top mark was because substitute navigator, Magnus Woxen (Aksel Magdahl is still on R&R leave) overstood the layline, allowing PUMA to make a nice leebow tack and round ahead. But from there, Ken Read still had work to do - as the race winning move was coming up.

PUMA and Ericsson 3 led away from the windward mark, gybing when they were lined up for the middle of the gate - a nice conservative pick. But fourth placed Telefonica Blue, and sixth placed Delta Lloyd kept going just that little bit further. Bouwe Bekking choosing to wait 30 seconds after he passed PUMA's line before he called for the gybe on Telefonica Blue, with Delta Lloyd's tactician, Andre Fonseca waiting another 30 seconds again.

Those were golden seconds. Telefonica Blue has always shown a capacity in the light air of the in-port races to sail a slightly wider wind angle downwind, without losing much, if any, speed. They sailed that mode now, and it won them the race. They joined Delta Lloyd in an entirely different lane of breeze, which got them all the way to the leeward gate in one gybe. On the way, they passed all three of the boats in front of them.

Telefonica Blue wins the In-Port race in Rio de Janeiro. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

Telefonica Blue was untouchable from there, but Bermudez de Castro, Fonseca and their teammates still had plenty on in their three year-old boat. PUMA had kept themselves in the middle of the race track, and were able to recover second, but Delta Lloyd had to hold off a charge from the overall race leader, Ericsson 4 and Torben Grael - anxious for a good showing on his home water.

And so Delta Lloyd get today's honourable mention, not just for picking the right side of the first run, along with Telefonica Blue, but for two calls by Andre Fonseca. The tactician held his nerve and held his line on port tack, when crossing Ericsson 4 by the slenderest of margins at the bottom of the first run, and again at the bottom of the second run. The slightest misjudgement would have cost them a penalty and third place. But there was no misjudgement, Delta Lloyd past clear ahead both times, and recorded their best result of the event so far.

Volvo Ocean Race

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