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Chris Nicholson talks to VSail.info about the Volvo Ocean Race and his future plans

Posted on 20 July 2012 by Valencia Sailing

The 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race might have ended two weeks ago but Telefonica and Camper are still active in the Real Club Náutico Palma carrying out social and media sailing sessions for the journalists and guests of the Copa del Rey. We had the chance of going onboard Camper on Friday afternoon and talking to her skipper, Chris Nicholson, about the round-the-world race and his future plans.

VSail.info: Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand finished second overall in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race. Are you satisfied with this result?
Chris Nicholson: We are but you also have to remember that when we started the race our aim was to win it. Still, I guess that sometimes goals have to change along the way. It was pretty evident halfway through the race, when we were in the lead in Leg 5 and broke the boat, that potentially the goals had to change. Midway through we were struggling to remain on the podium but once we hit Europe we were quite strong and doing well, consistently doing well. in the end, the answer it yes, we are very happy.

VSail.info: In hindsight is there you would have done differently? Is there an aspect or element of the campaign that would have given a better result had it been done differently?
Chris Nicholson: I think that when we look back and we look at the design of boats, we probably did a bet that was down on righting moment. Certainly, for the three-four legs it was quite biased towards boats with higher righting moment and we had some tough times where we were in good positions in legs and we just got ran down in a straight-line drag race.

VSail.info: I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Grant Dalton said this boat was a dog but he definitely criticized the design and the designer. Do you agree with him?
Chris Nicholson: In certain aspects we struggled, for sure. There were certain points of sailing, jib reaching for example, where we would pay a heavy penalty but we were strong in others. Still, for a large portion of the race we weren’t strong. I just think the Juan Kouyoumdjian yachts were a little bit more all-round, all-round consistent speed. Groupama for example had some serious legs at times. It’s hard to single out anything, we feel we had some weak points and we still managed to finish second overall in the race. This isn’t bad at all and this is the second time Marcelino Botín has designed a boat that comes second in the race. I think this is a good track record.

Camper heading to Miami. Itajaí, 22 April 2012. Photo copyright Paul Todd / Volvo Ocean Race

VSail.info: When one refers to the Volvo Ocean Race boats, the most important aspect will be the dramatic change organizers have decided by establishing a one-design yacht for the next editions. What is your opinion on that, from a sailor’s point of view?
Chris Nicholson: As a sailor, I prefer one designs. I quite like the idea that when the boats are tied up at the dock and you look at the boat besides you, you know it’s identical and then the emphasis gets pushed more onto what happens on the water. These boats are very complex to design and build at the moment and not enough people have the skills for that and you can’t guarantee to a sponsor that you will be competitive when the start gun goes. With a one-design that can be guaranteed to the sponsor.

VSail.info: How can you ever guarantee you will be competitive, not only in sailing but in any other sport?
Chris Nicholson: You can guarantee that the boat will be competitive and you take a huge variable out of the race. At the moment, one of the biggest variables is starting in Alicante and not knowing if you have a boat that is capable of winning the race. People may like that, others may not but try saying to a sponsor a third of the way through the race your boat might not be fast enough to win. I don’t think that’s good for the sport and the sponsors. In a one-design boat you won’t have any excuse. You will either be telling your sponsor that you went the wrong way or that you got a nice shift and you won the race. This puts more emphasis on the sailors and in the current climate this is a good thing.

VSail.info: According to the way this change was presented, its main aim and objective is to lower costs, to make it cheaper for teams to enter. Do you think they will achieve this goal?
Chris Nicholson: I think we have to wait and see. In the first edition of this new boat I’m not sure the price will lower so much but certainly in the second edition there will be huge benefits. For instance, take our boat. Even if the race had continued with the sames boats, ours is practically worthless because it will be outdesigned for the next race. In a one-design race, once we finish, we can start immediately with a boat that could probably be just a small fraction slower. It can do the race again, it can be used as a proper training boat, it can be a proper tool for the sponsor and then we will see big cost-savings. I think that the initial cost-savings should be there but maybe not for some of the early teams. On the other hand, a sponsor that comes late in the race at least can be guaranteed to have a boat that is fast. The designers won’t be taken up, they can have a boat that is fast and the emphasis will again be on the crews. I think there might be some savings in the first edition of the new boat and certainly the aim of the project is to provide savings.

VSail.info: A view shared by a number of people intricately involved with offshore and ocean racing is that you, the sailors, will greatly benefit from this move. By taking out the design variable and putting a premium on seamanship and sailing skills, conventional wisdom wants that your salaries could double or triple. So, we lower costs with the new boat but on the other hand we double or triple payroll.
Chris Nicholson: If I’m selfish to think about it, it would be a nice thing to happen but I can’t see that, I simply can’t see it happening, in regards to payments. I think you’ll see the payments align fairly similar to what they have in the past. I don’t see it being the case. Remember, we have always spent a huge amount of money on design, so hopefully the saving might be somewhere in between. To be honest with you, I do think sailors should be paid more! It certainly is one of the hardest yacht races in the world and payments are nowhere near top line sports.

You don’t get anything for free in the sport and I think that it isn’t going to look as good in regards to the interest in innovation, design and new systems that are brought to the boat. For sure, this is a setback.

VSail.info: This is true. You strip the race from a major component, the technology, design and innovation.
Chris Nicholson: I totally agree with that but I think the benefits will outweigh that loss. The benefits of having the same boat, the benefit of a having a sponsor that knows they will get a fast boat even if they are late before the start, the benefit of having an increased number of entries, even a women’s team hopefully. I think these benefits outweigh the design innovation.

One of sailing's greatest advantages. Guests can sail on the actual racing yacht with the team! Try doing that in football or car racing

VSail.info: One issue Team Telefonica raised in their press conference after the end of the race was that they finished fourth even if it took them four days less than all the other teams to round the world. I find this a valid argument. Would you be in favor of having the Volvo Ocean Race in elapsed time rather than a number of equal points per leg, regardless of their length? A leg that lasts one-two days has the same weight as a leg that lasts two-three weeks.
Chris Nicholson: The aim of all sports worldwide is to keep it interesting to the public until the very last moment of the race. In this race we had four boats that could all win the race in the on the second last leg. I don’t think there is too much wrong with the current system and I think it would have been interesting to ask everybody’s opinion in Auckland for instance, what their view on the point system was. Telefonica was well ahead in that stage, in terms of points, and we had two very, very narrow losses against them but we paid a heavy points-penalty. I honestly don’t know what I would have said back then if you had asked me. Right now, I think the system works well and I would hate to see a race where in leg 1 someone just gets away on a weather system and wins by two days. It would be probably race over. I even think we could put more points towards the end. It gives teams the chance to improve and challenge for the lead.

VSail.info: Do you feel the In-Port races have too much weight on the overall score?
Chris Nicholson: It seems they gave a lot of weight to the In-Port races for an ocean race, if that’s what we are still selling ourselves as. If this is an ocean race, then 20% is a high number. Even if it counted for 1% we would still go out there and race hard. Take the case of the ProAm races. They don’t count for anything in regards to points but I can guarantee we still race very hard against each other. The In-Port races create more interest and are good for TV but I think they could weigh less and still look just as good.

VSail.info: Last but not least, what are your personal plans for the future? Are you interested in doing the Volvo Ocean Race with the new boats?
Chris Nicholson: I’m certainly interested in the one design. I have a history in the 49er and the one-design classes. I like the concept of even boats across the board. At times it adds pressure but it has the benefit of he emphasis being on the sailors. I’m happy with that and I’m still motivated to do the race. Just two weeks passed since the finish and even keener now than in the previous races to do it again. Having said that, I also require a bit of a rest right now. I might try the Barcelona World Race but I have my sight firmly set on the next Volvo Ocean Race.

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Puma first to round Fastent Rock as Groupama chase overall victory

Posted on 02 July 2012 by Valencia Sailing

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] PUMA led the fleet on the rounding of the iconic Fastnet Rock at 1031 UTC on Monday, marking the final 150 nautical mile stretch to the finish at Galway, Ireland, where the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 race will be decided.

The final offshore leg has seen some of the closest racing yet, with the top four teams on the overall leaderboard Groupama, PUMA, CAMPER and Telefónica each switching the role of leader since the race started from Lorient, France, on Sunday.

Just six minutes separated the top four around Fastnet Rock and at 1400 UTC with 113 nautical miles remaining it was PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG who held the narrowest of advantages over Team Telefónica, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama sailing team, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya.

“The motivation is still there,” said PUMA bowman Casey Smith. “We’re racing hard, we’ve got all the boats around us, and we’re not going to let them get past.”

Ken Read at the helm of Puma Ocean Racing as they round the Fastnet in the lead. Fastnet, 2 July 2012. Photo copyright Amory Ross / Puma Ocean Racing

Fourth place would be enough to give Groupama overall victory from their first appearance in the race, though with conditions still far from easy nothing is certain for Franck Cammas’ team.

“No one is giving an inch,’’ CAMPER navigator Will Oxley said after a cold, rough and uncomfortable night’s sailing in the English Channel, which has pushed each crew to the limit as they fight to pour every ounce of their flagging energy into the final day’s racing and keep their winning ambitions alive.

“This leg and this Volvo race is going to come down to the wire.”

Abu Dhabi still have ambitions of winning the in-port series although their hopes of overall victory were ended by damage to their boat some time ago — and they were struggling for speed again on Monday with suspected keel damage.

“We normally struggle a bit, but now we’re struggling a lot,’’ skipper Ian Walker said. “I suspect we’ve got some damage to our keel, but there’s no way to find out till Galway.”

Sanya are eager to gain a place on the podium before the race is out and at 1400 UTC they remained in touch with the leaders, just behind Abu Dhabi.

Though the miles are decreasing the level of difficulty is not. After rounding Fastnet Rock, the most southerly tip of Ireland, the fleet sailed head first into westerly winds gusting in excess of 25 knots.

Proving key on the remaining course is the gybe that the teams will have to measure-up near the entry to Galway and a potential light wind approach, Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said.

“The leg could be won or lost on the back of how the teams play a critical gybe later today,” he said. “This gybe will set their layline to the waypoint at Inishmore Island off the coast of Galway, and if they get it wrong it could cost time and distance.

“There could also be opportunities for gains and losses in the final 30 nautical miles from Inishmore to the finish because a warm front passing over the area is causing unpredictable rain and light winds, likely less than 10 knots.”

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Camper in training mode ahead of Lorient’s InPort race

Posted on 27 June 2012 by Valencia Sailing

[Source: Camper] CAMPER is in training mode ahead of Lorient’s crucial InPort race on Saturday 30th June. Every point on the scoreboard will be vital as the teams battle for the overall positions. There is no room for error in the two remaining InPort races and final Leg to Galway.

The shore team has run through the job list preparin CAMPER for the 485nm sprint to Galway,

“The boat was in good shape after the leg, and our job list was pretty minimal compared to some other teams. It was a brutal leg, but given the restrictions in lifting the boat out here in Lorient we were pretty limited in what we could do anyway. But we’re happy that we’re ready to go for the final part of this race,” commented Shore Manager Neil Cox.

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand takes second in leg eight behind Groupama. Lorient, 15 June 2012. Photo copyright Chris Cameron / Camper

The team has been out sailing over the last two days. “We know the little details will make or break the final result. We need to make sure the manouvres are clean and quick, any error on the race course is going to be severely punished on the scoreboard. There are only eleven days remaining until the conclusion of this race. We need to stay focused and not lose sight of the final result. After the results of Leg 8 it is clear that anything can happen in this race so we’re are going to fight until the very end,” said Skipper Chris Nicholson.

After missing the previous two legs (Legs 7 & 8) due to a prolapsed disc injury South African Mike Pammenter, stepped back onboard CAMPER this week. Unfortunately during training he suffered a relapse. “Back injuries have different recovery levels. An injury like this can take six weeks or longer to heal. Mike has been working hard on his recovery and we have pushed hard to have him available for the final leg. During one of the training days this week he suffered a relapse and we feel it is prudent to pull him out of this leg. It is disappointing for him not to be able to rejoin the boat for the final leg but I have no doubt that he will make a full recovery,” commented CAMPER with Emirates team New Zealand physiotherapist Paul Wilson.

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Camper: Volvo Ocean Race – Leg 7, Day 7

Posted on 28 May 2012 by Valencia Sailing

Camper: Volvo Ocean Race – Leg 7, Day 7

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Camper takes second place in Miami thriller

Posted on 10 May 2012 by Valencia Sailing

[Source: Camper] CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finish line in Miami earlier today, happy with their performance and the 25 points won for the second place. They completed the 4800-mile leg from Itajai in Brasil to Miami in Florida in 17days 2 hours 21 minutes and 24 seconds.

In a leg that has seen an oceanic match race more or less from start to finish, skipper Chris Nicholson and his crew were comfortable with their performance although an outright leg victory would have been a sweet reward for all their hard work.

“It was good, especially after the last leg, which was tough for us. We are very happy with the way the whole team pulled together in itajai and got us here in good shape. You are always frustrated not to win as that is why you do it but there was a lot of close racing and we had a lot of sail area up in a lot of breeze just wondering who would crack first,” commented Nicholson dockside in Miami.

“It is like a lot of the skippers have said – this race will be close. I am hoping it comes down to the wire in Galway,” he concluded.

Given the closeness of the race, excellent crew work and smart decisions by both navigator and skipper all played a crucial part in the final result. CAMPER navigator Will Oxley only managed some 20 minutes of sleep on the final day of the leg but was generous in his praise of Puma.

“They sailed a very good race, but we were there all the way and did not make it easy for them. But the most important thing is that the boats ahead of us on the leaderboard are behind us on the water. We deserve to be in the top two, that is for sure. Our decision to go in between the islands was one that we had mapped out well before the start of the leg so we knew what we were doing. But this leg was not won by one critical maneouvre, there were some 50 places that it could have gone wrong,” commented a tired but elated Will Oxley.

Daryl Wislang, bowman spoke of the determination onboard the Hispanic-New Zealand entry: “We were never going to give up right until Puma finished. We have been pushing as hard as we have been all leg. But this race is anyone’s game and there are four boats that are going to be pretty close at the end of this leg. “

CAMPER now has eight days to prepare for the ProAm Race on the 18th May. While the sailing team take some well earned time off, the CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand shore team will be ensuring that CAMPER is race fit and ready ahead of the start weekend in mid May.

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Camper’s tactical split

Posted on 05 May 2012 by Valencia Sailing

[Source: Emirates Team New Zealand] CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand has split away from the fleet and headed west in search of better wind.

The bold call to head in close to the Caribbean Islands has seen CAMPER strike out on its own with Puma in first place and Telefonica in third both opting to take a more easterly offshore route.

The decision to split from the fleet was made necessary by a large trough of low pressure blocking the fleet’s way and bringing light and variable conditions across the race course.

CAMPER’s tactical gamble appears to have paid off for the time being with the team enjoying the strongest breeze of any of the boats for the last 12 hours, and with both Puma and Telefonica deciding to also pursue a more westerly line in recent hours.

However, with over 1000 nautical miles of light wind sailing remaining to the finish line in Miami it promises to be a stressful time for all the boats in the fleet as they wait to see who can make the most of the flukey conditions.

CAMPER navigator Will Oxley says that’s it’s going to be a trying final few days for the team.

“It looks like a very slow final 1300 miles with lots of potential landmines. Here is hoping we can avoid stepping on one.

“It’s a pretty interesting time in the race and although it’s a bit risky heading inshore the models are showing more breeze in here. It’s going to be a nerve-wracking few days that’s for sure.

“But we need to back our calls and right now we’re pretty happy with the decision to head west – let’s see how it plays out.”

CAMPER in the latest position report at 1400h 5 May NZT is in second place with the best boat speed and wind speed across the fleet sailing at 14.6 knots in a 14.6 knot south easterly.

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Tricky times ahead for Camper

Posted on 04 May 2012 by Valencia Sailing

[Source: Emirates Team New Zealand] There are tricky times ahead for CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand as the fleet transition from classic trade wind sailing conditions to a large light airs zone.

After several days of fast and furious sailing, conditions are expected to become light and variable over the next 24 hours and remain that way for the 1300 nautical miles (nm) left to Miami.

With just 17 nm separating the top three boats and Abu Dhabi and Groupama not much further behind the tricky conditions will present plenty of opportunities for a leaderboard reshuffle, and for the trailing boats to get back into the game.

The breeze is predicted to stay under 10 knots for the rest of the leg and at times drop away to just three or four knots. The latest estimated time of arrival into Miami is early evening May 9 local time (mid-morning May 10 NZT).

CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson says that the team are determined to continue pushing hard for the lead in the light conditions.

“When we look back through the race, whenever it’s been light and tricky we have fared pretty well.

“We’re going to end up with an area of breeze where a certain amount of luck will come into play and we’re prepared for that.

“We’ve been able to stay pretty strong this whole leg so far. Some conditions have suited us, some haven’t, yet we’re still here. We’re not going anywhere. We’re planning on being here right to the death on this one.

“The trades served us nicely and we’re in a competitive spot as we head into the light stuff.

“It’s going to be pretty funky though over the next few days as the breeze dies off and there’s going to be some big decision required that will probably decide the race.

“We just need to make sure we get those decisions right.”

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CAMPER pulling no punches in Atlantic scrap

Posted on 01 May 2012 by Valencia Sailing

[Source: Camper]  With around 2,000 miles to the Leg Six finish in Miami, the crew of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand is pulling no punches as it engages in hand-to-hand combat with two of its Volvo Ocean Race rivals in the Atlantic Ocean.

At 1200 UTC today (Tuesday) the latest position report revealed less than 11 nautical miles separates the leading trio with leg leader Puma followed closely by CAMPER in second place and Telefonica in third. The three boats are continually within sight of each other in a compelling tussle, and the crews are closely monitoring every weather update to decide on sail combinations.

CAMPER has avoided the worst of the Doldrums’ wind holes to overtake Telefonica and cut Puma’s leg lead to just 6.5 nm in an amazing burst of speed in challenging conditions that surpassed all expectations.

“Somewhat bizarrely our best 24-hour run for this leg maybe across the Doldrums; so far we have done 428 in the last 24 hours. Here’s hoping it lasts until we get through into the trades again,” said CAMPER navigator Will Oxley.

However, with average wind speeds dramatically dropping to below four knots, the progress of the leading trio has stalled and the game of cat-and-mouse is set to continue.

Oxley insisted his team would not be too distracted by the close attention of Puma and Telefonica and would very much be focusing on themselves and their own performances.

“At this point all you can do is sail the course that you believe in, we’re not trying to cover any of the other boats. We just trying to stay on a course that will get us there as quick as possible,” he said.

Oxley said he was delighted to be challenging near the front as they look to win a leg for the first time in this race.“Thankfully we are having conditions in which the boat is really strong, and that’s great,” he said.

Media crew member Hamish Hooper predicted a long night ahead as CAMPER looks to pounce on Puma.
“Our fingers are most firmly crossed that we can make it through these Doldrums and into the trade winds again unscathed and in front,”he said. “For this to happen it will be a long night for the guys spotting clouds, and squalls, changing sails and maximising speed whenever we can. 

At the 1300 UTC report the gap between the top three is a mere 2.8nm.

01/05/12 1300 UTC report
1) Puma – 2317 nm DTF
2) CAMPER + 1.8nm
3) Telefonica +2.8nm
4) Abu Dhabi + 81.1nm
5) Groupama + 93.7 nm

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