CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson blogs from Miami
Well as we get back into things and begin to focus on Leg 7 it’s pretty clear to everyone that this is a tight race. As we head to Europe, CAMPER, Puma, Groupama, and Telefonica are all realistic chances to win this race.
The top performers are now all very close together so the obvious question is can we still win the race overall? Yes, absolutely but a few things do need to fall into place. Primarily we need to have conditions in the remaining legs that are not dominated by jib reaching. It’s out there for everyone to see that we just don’t enjoy those conditions and struggle in them, but in pretty much every other point of sail we’re competitive with everyone else. It just so happens that the first four legs of this race against expectations delivered a huge amount of jib reaching. The good news is that Leg 7 should be mainly downwind running and the legs after should offer a good mix of conditions.
So with two thirds of the race behind us are we where we wanted to be prior to the start? The honest answer is no because we know we have a very good team here and as a result we want to be first. We set out to win this race and that’s what we’re still focused on doing. That said with the issues we’ve had to date and the predominance of reaching conditions in the first half of the race we are not positioned too badly.
The important thing for us that we now have a transatlantic leg which requires boats to be good on all points of sail. We’re happy to take some punishment on jib reaching but want the chance to stretch our legs in different conditions and ensure that the boats that do well are those that perform well in a range of different conditions.
The reality is that at this stage of the race there aren’t many big tricks left to any of the boats to lift their performance. We have a few sail buttons left and our sail wardrobe will become more specific in the remaining legs. To date our approach has been more general and geared to cope with all conditions. In the shorter legs we will get a better handle on expected weather and accordingly tailor our sails to suit the specific conditions expected. The move from a more general sail programme to a more specific one does come with its own set of risks but we think overall it will give us a small advantage.
The nice thing is that at this stage of the race we have the ability to go either way with our sail programme and have plenty of options available to us which can only be a good thing. I’m not sure what shape the other teams are in, but to be in the position we are in requires you to have used your sail buttons wisely over the last six months.
Aside from the new sails there aren’t many other physical tweaks left to make to the boat to lift its performance, and it’s going to come down to the team being focused and at the top of their game.
As a unit I think we’re lifting our game with each leg and just getting better and better. This last leg saw a lot of difficult tactical decisions and the afterguard worked together really well in making the right calls. It certainly helped that the conditions generally suited us but nonetheless I’m confident that we’re gelling like never before.
Looking at the other top boats it’s hard to pick out who is the most dangerous team at the moment. Puma having won the last two legs are clearly on a roll but at this stage of proceedings everybody is on thin ice. If you’re going strong, it’s very easy to fall off the horse and have that momentum disrupted. Conversely, if you’re struggling you really have to fight to pick yourself up, get your head back above water and performing well again. Anybody who is on a roll in this race is one result away from falling off that roll in a big way.
Things are in a flux and any one of the top four are a real threat and could come out on top. As a team we’ve been through the wringer and came out of it stronger so I’m very happy with the make-up of our team.
We’re ready for a big transatlantic leg that delivers everything – tough tactical decisions, challenging weather and a good work out for boat and crew. We know we’re competitive in the light, upwind in any wind strength, and downwind in any wind strength. We have the one Achilles heel of jib reaching which has been rather brutally demonstrated in earlier legs, but at the end of the day we have a good boat.
This race is tight and it’s only going to get tighter but we’re ready for a good old scrap. You can see teams at the moment that are struggling to hold in where they are and those that have fallen off the pace. At the moment we’re performing well after coming off a very difficult time so that says a lot about the guys. We’re a robust team and after almost three months without a break we’ve fought our way back, we’re rested and now we make sure we’re back on track.