Saturday, 4 April 2009
The seven skippers share a laugh at the Press Conference ahead of the 'Light In-Port Race in the Volvo Ocean Race'. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.
by Raith Al-Samarrai
He smiled and laughed, but played down what appears to be a significant advantage. If Torben Grael is confident about racing in his backyard tomorrow then he did a good job of hiding it this afternoon.
A lot has been made of his apparent edge when the fleet enters Guanabara Bay, the tricky stretch of water where he spent many days, weeks and years training en route to becoming the sailing's most decorated Olympian.
It is an area he admits is complicated, with a current so strong at times it was considered a river by early Portuguese explorers. But rather than over emphasising the importance of the local knowledge he shares with Joao Signorini, a native of Rio de Janeiro, he believes the ‘Light In-Port Race' will be won by the crew that best handle their boat.
"I don't think there is a favourite," he said. "It's not an easy place to sail normally. For tomorrow we're going to have an ebbing tide which should make it a little easier. But it's still unpredictable.
"It's not an easy place with the same pattern every day...This is kind of a complicated place normally. We're sailing with extremely fast boats on a very short course so boat handling is going to be more important than where you go on the race course."
That said, his team must be considered the one to beat with an inshore track record of two wins and a fourth from the three in-port races so far. And whatever the significance, local knowledge is an advantage at any race course.
As PUMA skipper Ken Read said: "I think it's up to us as teams to do our homework and figure out the intricacies of the bay. We have to go and try to teach the master his own game. It's not easy sailing against somebody who's sailed so much time in area."
But, as told by Telefonica Blue's inshore skipper, Iker Martinez, it could all be academic. "These races can be won by anyone, whoever is best on the day," he said. "The course is short and the boats are big so the manoeuvres are the most important thing. Whoever gets a good start has a very good chance.
"If I had to race against Torben in Rio, I would choose to do it in a Volvo Open 70. This short race in these boats is about the start and manoeuvres. I would not like to race him here in a Star boat."
To that end, Read and PUMA have, with the exception of Qingdao, made a habit of good starts. Read was in confident mood. "We always feel confident going into the day races, it's in our comfort zone. We didn't do well in China, but that was a bit of a fluky day. I think everyone is in the same boat with regard to rest. I saw the guys last night for the first time in a week and everyone was smiling. They are all motivated and ready."
Especially motivated are the crews of Team Delta Lloyd and Telefonica Black. They both missed leg five because of damage picked up en route to China, but have since returned - making a seven-boat fleet for the first time since leg four - and both are confident.
Aside from seeing Pedro Campos, a 13-time world champion, resume his role as inshore helmsman, Black have added double Olympic gold medallist Luis Doreste as tactician, and Anton Paz, who won gold in the last Games, sails before taking over as media crewmember in leg six. Roger Nilson temporarily assumes media responsibilities.
Black skipper Fernando Echavarri, who partnered Paz to gold, said: "It's been frustrating watching from the side...We didn't make the big leg which was something we all had dreamed to do. It was disappointing to miss the leg, but now we are coming back. I think the boat is healthy now and we are trying - as always - to do our best.
"We have some great sailors and feel good."
Likewise, Delta Lloyd are eyeing a good future. "The new Delta Lloyd has a new bow a new mast and a few new good sails," said skipper Roberto Bermudez. "We've spent two weeks testing everything and I think we're ready for the in port and next leg. We've added some good new crew on board, Nick Bice, Ben Costello and we have a new navigator Wouter Verbraak from Team Russia and then Green Dragon and now Delta Lloyd...I have also Marcelo (Ferreira, Grael's long term Star partner) onboard for the in-port race. He is a very good guy and understands this bay very well."
Green Dragon's Ian Walker has not yet taken his boat sailing since arriving in Rio last week, but is hoping for a good performance. "I guess if we were doing another regatta you might spend a whole week training for the race," he said. "But we only put the boat in the water yesterday; fortunately it's in good shape. We'll do a day's practice and try our luck tomorrow...We have a little bit of experience of racing here on the boat, but I've never sailed here."
In the background Magnus Olsson, laughing as usual, was relaxed. His team are still revelling in the glory of their leg five win. The result was in no small part due to navigator Aksel Magdahl's bravery, but he will not sail tomorrow.
"Aksel is still resting in Sweden," he said. "Magnus Woxen is taking his place but otherwise no changes."
And so to Guanabara Bay. There will be no fewer than 18 Olympic medals represented on that stretch of water, but all eyes will be on the man with more than anyone else.
Volvo Ocean Race