Sunday, 21 June 2009

VOR: Final Fight in Tight Quarters

Getting ready for racing on Sunday. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Riath Al-Samarrai

Whatever you do, do not suggest that Sunday's In-Port race is a dead rubber. There may only be a slender chance of a single leaderboard position change, but the skippers and sailors were in no doubt that the red mist of competition will be thick when the Stockholm in-port race is contested tomorrow.

"These are teams that are so competitive," said PUMA skipper Ken Read. "If they are playing checkers or doing a running race to the end of the village, these are the most competitive people on Earth. They always try to win."

Ericsson 4 navigator Jules Salter added: "We are fully motivated, no doubt about that. We all managed get grumpy with each other on the City Sprint race (which carried no points) when we coughed up the lead to Ericsson 3 for no real reason."

"Tomorrow is an important day for Swedish yachting," continued Ericsson 3 skipper Magnus Olsson, who will sail on home waters. "There will be more boats there than anywhere else. We need to produce a good performance; for ourselves and our backers."

It was a common thread of discussion. For all the sailors, they have huge competitive natures to satisfy, sponsors and spectators to impress. For the smaller teams it is also a chance to collect a high profile result.

Telefonica Blue goes back in the water in Stockholm ahead of Sunday's in-port race. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

For Bouwe Bekking, the skipper of Telefonica Blue, the race has a couple of purposes. They have established themselves as the most successful in-port race team, collecting three wins, two seconds and a third, giving the crew an insurmountable tally of 22 points, a score out of the reach of Ericsson 4 and PUMA, who are tied on 18.5. "The inshore series has been good for us and we want to get another good result," said Bekking.

Of greater significance is their battle for second. Blue's chances are very slim, according to the crew, after the events of leg nine left them seven points behind PUMA. If PUMA finish three places ahead of Telefonica Blue tomorrow they will be guaranteed second against all eventualities, while even a loss by one slot is likely to be enough, assuming they make the start line of leg 10 and it is only a seven boat fleet (Team Russia have not formally retired from the race).

Needless to say, Bekking's optimism is low on the second place front, but he is confident ahead of the race around the cans.

"We are just trying to win and see where we end up," he said. "We always do well in these races so we feel good."

He said he feels confident in any conditions, but the high likelihood of light breezes tomorrow won't hurt their prospects. They are considered the fastest light air boat in the fleet - something they have publicly proven as all but one of the six in-port races have been sailed in little breeze - and the consensus at dockside suggests it will be less than 10 knots, or maybe a little more dependent on the arrival and strength of a sea breeze.

"It looks like another light in-port race, which has been a bit of a regular thing this race," Salter said. "Hopefully we will get a sea breeze out there towards the end of the afternoon. That is probably our best prospect of some wind so let's hope we can get the racing in. We might only get one race.

"Our best forecast is an eight to 10 knot sea breeze which will be just fine."

Stockholm, the penultimate stop of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-9. Image copyright Volvo Ocean Race.

Salter expects a good race. "Telefonica Blue sail very well inshore and their boat seems to be optimised for the inshore scenario," he added. "PUMA are on a bit of a roll. Everyone is good. We are certainly going for a win and the pressure is off a bit. If you get the start right and do the simple things well you can get a good result."

Read said: "It sounds like it could be similar to Ireland or a bit lighter even. As always we have our work cut out for us. It's really a shame because we have been to some of the coolest places in the world, but on in-port day the breeze shuts down."

He is far from complacent about his position on the leaderboard. Blue shore boss Campbell Field said their boat is at "100%" again after their significant leg nine damage and Read expects a tough battle tomorrow. "They are repaired and have something to prove, which is a dangerous mix," Read said, before hinting his team might take a match race approach and mark their main rival.

"I'm not sure," he said. "It could be a little different because it has a potential finality to it. We go into the day thinking winning is not the most important thing, let's put it that way."

Read, who brings Jerry Kirby back into the team as one of his two extra crew, believes spectators could also see the best of Ericsson 4. "It is easier to win a day when you are in Ericsson 4's position," he said. "There is no pressure. You can just have fun, let it rip. If you are over the start line earlier it's like ‘whatever, it doesn't matter'. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the best out of them tomorrow because it doesn't matter as much."

Fernando Echavarri, the Telefonica Black skipper, is keen to repeat their Galway in-port podium. "Our campaign has been hard," he said. "We have not had the results we wanted all the time, but we have a chance in the last in-port race and leg to get a good result. We had a podium in Galway and it would be nice to get another for our team."

Green Dragon's Ian Walker has recruited Roland Jourdain's Barcelona World Race co-skipper Jean-Luc Nelias to replace navigator Ian Moore, whose wife is about to give birth. Walker emphasised the importance of a strong finish. "We owe it to the sponsors and spectators to put up a good race and produce our best performance. Especially if you are a small team like us it is still a chance to take a crack at a leg or in-port race win."

Stockholm: the Old Town is the medieval heart of Stockholm and a part of the city that is full of life. Image copyright Volvo Ocean Race.

Delta Lloyd skipper Roberto Bermudez added: "We have been improving throughout the race and I do not expect us to stop now. We have sailed some of these races well and took podiums in Rio and Galway. I would like another, of course. We cannot improve our position on the leaderboard, but it is very important for all of us, all the teams, to get good results. It will be a good fight."

Volvo Ocean Race

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