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Southern Spars

Three days and three leaders in Volvo Ocean Race

by Sail-World on 9 Nov 2011
Navigator Andrew Cape from Australia onboard Team Telefonica during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. Diego Fructuoso /Team Telefónica/Volvo Ocean Race http://www.volvooceanrace.com

Groupama’s decision to take a more direct southerly route rather than stay with the rest of the four-boat fleet pushing out to the west, began to pay dividends over night.

The Franck Cammas skippered entry has hugged the Moroccan coast sailing in an area which is generally avoided by Volvo Ocean Race sailors, who are driven by the convention to break to the west to minimise time spent in the Doldrums before reaching the tradewinds.

Cammas, current holder of the circumnavigation record saw something in the wind data that the others did not, and has managed stay in a thermally created breeze along the coast, while being able to stick to the direct route for the rounding mark off the Brazilian coast.

Now Groupama has taken the lead, which has been variously shared by Camper and Telefonica. The small band of breeze which pulled her down the African coast should drag her the whole way through into a wind system that she can ride all the way to Brazil.


From sailing at a speed of about 5kts 24 hours ago, Groupama is now matching the rest of the fleet for speed but is much closer to the direct and shortest route. They are now sailing at around 12 kts and enjoy a 4.6 nm lead at 0700 UTC on 9 November.

Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg lie nine nautical miles behind the Spanish team, and Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand are in fourth a further 45nm astern, but closer to the direct route to Brazil.


With the French crew now benefiting from their bold split from the fleet, the mood on Groupama 4 is understandably upbeat, says Volvo Ocean race media reports.

'The atmosphere on board is following a parallel curve to the strength of the wind' said media crew member Yann Riou in a report from the boat this morning. 'Everyone on board has been 100 per cent behind the decision to go south and we are all working hard to make it pay.'

As night fell on the fleet, the previous evening Groupama 4 was well away from the other three yachts who had struck out for the conventional westerly course.


Ken Read (USA) from Puma's Mar Mostro described the French as ‘lonely warriors heading the traditional trade route’. They are sailing their own race only four and a half nautical miles (nm) off the Moroccan coast, 96 nm inshore of the rest of the fleet. 'Still pretty amazing,' Read writes. 'A split in the fleet with 39,000 miles to go.'

For all competitors finding a quick route through the Doldrums will be required before the champagne sailing can begin. Only then will we know if Groupama has pulled off a brilliant tactical move, or made a dreadful error.

Dame Fortune favours the brave, and right now she is positively beaming on the French.

Overnight it was announced in Puerto Rico that Telefonica's Xabi Fernandez and Iker Martinez, both from Spain, the ISAF sailors of the Year 2011, their sailing skills will surely be put to the test once again over the next few days.

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