Thursday, 18 June 2009

VOR: It Ain't Over 'til It's Over

PUMA powers along under gennaker after the start of Leg 9 from Marstrand. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Riath Al-Samarrai

“No way is this in the bag.” With those words Ken Read insisted his PUMA team will take nothing for granted in the apparently one-sided battle for second with Telefonica Blue.

Read’s men would appear to have all the reasons in the world to feel comfortable, sitting on a nine-point lead that will fall to a hefty seven when Blue finish leg nine.

Bouwe Bekking, on the other hand, admitted in the immediate aftermath of running aground that “most likely second place is gone”, given that Blue have just one in-port race and a single leg to make up the deficit.

But if Read does feel secure, he is giving no indication.

“You don’t make it all the way around the world, smashing into rocks and going through all the stuff that the fleet have been through without having a lot of guts and a lot of fortitude,” he said.

“It was a huge shame what happened to them. We are really happy that everybody is healthy, that nobody got hurt. From what we have been told they are going to be back over here for the day races and they are mathematically not out of it by any means. We still have a battle on our hands.”

The next stage of Blue’s battle begins at 1700 local time tonight, when they intend to leave Marstrand for Stockholm. It would appear to put them ahead of the schedule Bekking disclosed yesterday, when he said they planned to leave Thursday morning with a Saturday morning arrival on the cards.

Read used the Blue incident, whereby they smashed into rocks and suffered substantial damage shortly after the leg start, to illustrate that anything could still happen on the final leg to St Petersburg.

“You can’t underestimate the unpredictability of this race,” he said. “There are containers, whales, who knows? And the fluky nature of sailing up a river; you could be parked for a day and a half while everyone sails away. You never know.

“All of a sudden they are the underdog. We kind of played that underdog spoiler role up until now: ‘Oh I can’t believe PUMA’s hanging in there with the big boys, Telefonica and Ericsson’. All of a sudden we have a bit of a lead and the roles change. I’m sure they will play that underdog role pretty well, you know ‘woe is us, no way we can be second’. I’ve got his speech written because I’ve been preaching it myself for about six months.

“Long story short, no way is this is in the bag.”

Despite the tension over places, Bekking revealed the good sportsmanship of his rivals in helping them through the ordeal.

“Special thanks also goes to Kimo (Worthington), Coxi (Neil Cox), Shaun (Healey) and Will (Oxley) from the PUMA team, who were out on a chase boat and did not leave our side until were we back in the harbour, even taking over the towing ropes to the big vessel,” he said. “Thank you guys. We are in direct competition for 2nd place overall with your team, but you showed great sportsmanship and friendship by helping us. PUMA was not the only the only team standing by us. Richard Brisius, of Ericsson, got in contact with our CEO Pedro Campos straightaway and offered the use of their work container, with all its boat building equipment. This has been handy as you can imagine.”

On the race track, PUMA certainly have cause to feel confident, not least because of their recent form. They were second into Galway, where they then won the in-port race, and took another second into Marstrand before winning leg nine.

Read said: “The good news is we are sailing well. We have done what a typical good single boat programme does, which is get better through the race. A two-boat programme has the opportunity to evaluate everything before one of these races start. A single boat programme has to do a tonne of evaluation early on. You could see in Paul Cayard’s (Pirates of the Caribbean) programme last time and Torben Grael’s (Brasil 1), they got better and better as they went along.

“A good single-boat programme has to hope like crazy that they can catch up before it is too late. In respect to E4 we couldn’t, but hopefully with everyone else we have done our homework and we are tough to beat.”

Volvo Ocean Race

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