Azzam is fleet as other Volvo boats slow

Ian Walker and the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's 'Azzam' are in the holiday spirit and looking to catch the rest of the fleet.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's crew manoeuvre a sail about the small, narrow deck of 'Azzam' during Leg 2's voyage to Abu Dhabi.
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Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper, was confident Friday as Azzam closed the gap on the leaders in the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The race grew considerably tighter as Groupama hit the doldrums - Team Telefonica surged into the lead and the last-place Abu Dhabi team cut its deficit from more than 200 nautical miles to less than 100.

"We will have a window of several hours after the other boats enter the doldrums to track their progress and adjust our approach accordingly," Walker said. "Pretty soon, Groupama will be doing half our speed and we will come hauling into the back of them. But it's not just about catching up - you need to get level or ahead, otherwise they will just pull away when they get through."

As Groupama battled with the doldrums - a low-pressure area around the equator where prevailing winds are very light - Telefonica found better breezes and sped to the front of the fleet in the race to Abu Dhabi. Camper/Emirates Team New Zealand also caught the breeze and closed the gap on the leaders.

Puma Ocean Racing slipped to fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was fifth but closing fast.

The boats are now all in what is called the "stealth zone", an area off the coast of Somalia where their exact locations are kept secret by race officials to help prevent a possible pirate attack. The boats will race to an undisclosed spot in the Indian Ocean, then be transported by ship to the northern coast of the UAE. From there, they will re-enter the water and continue the race to Abu Dhabi, where they are expected to arrive soon after the New Year.

The crews aboard several of the boats were singing Christmas carols yesterday, and Walker said the holiday was on the minds of his crew as: "It is sad to think of missing a precious Christmas with our kids. You only get so many with your kids and we will have one fewer now."

He said the crew was having "great fun" on Azzam's deck, but not so much down below. The whole boat smells of wet dog inside," he said. "Our one can of air freshener is on its last legs so we are looking forward to the doldrums when the wind will drop and we can get some air through the boat." On board Camper, media crew member Hamish Hooper reported a tangible change in atmosphere as the boat began to gain on the leaders.

"Another intense day in the nav-station, weighing up the pros cons and every other imaginable factor in what could be the biggest call of the whole leg," he said. "With the decision came instant action, nothing major, just a subtle change of bearing, a slight change of trim, but most importantly the change of focus was no longer 'Which way is best to go', but 'That's the way we are going and we are going to sail it as hard and fast as we possibly can'.

"We have boats to chase down and we will use every inch of water there is until the finish line to do it."