Volvo Ocean Race teams Groupama 4 and Puma Ocean Racing continue to do battle for the top spot on the fifteenth day of racing in leg five, from Auckland to Itajai.
The duel between the French and the Americans is still just as intense as before, since Groupama 4 and Puma have now been sailing together for 24 hours. 1,000 miles from the finish in Itajai, the duellists will quickly make the switch from a steady downwind breeze this Monday, to a beat from tonight… As such there are a lot of minor options up for grabs!
Of course the Spanish have made up nearly half the deficit they'd accumulated after their pit stop behind Cape Horn, and Telefonica is just 250 miles astern of the leading duo now! However, this separation should be enough to mean that the Iberians are in a different weather system and are hence likely to retain a slight deficit in relation to the duellists. This situation will stabilise over the coming days and probably through to Brazil. As such their 25% delta would appear to be very difficult to make up, given that the three Juan Kouyoumdjian designs are virtually sisterships and that their speed differential is minimal. Essentially it all comes down to sail configuration and being in contact with another boat can only improve on performance thanks to this comparison…
At the same latitude as the leaders, the New Zealanders are approaching Chile. As such they still have a good day at sea before Camper reaches Puerto Montt to have her bow repaired. How long will this take? That is the question… However, now is not a good time to be flirting with the Southern Ocean! A very big and very deep depression is making headway across the Pacific, with winds in excess of 60 knots on the cards. This is probably why Abu Dhabi is heading due East, and even though they have yet to declare their intentions, Ian Walker and his crew appear to be making for Chiloé Island too. The spectacular repairs at sea, after the Emirati hull suffered delamination, may not be safe enough to enable some extreme sailing towards Cape Horn…
As such, all eyes are on the front of the fleet because after over 5,000 miles, a nasty upwind gale, a short spell of calms, an 8-day austral storm and 800 miles of very varied conditions since Cape Horn, Puma and Groupama 4 are within sight of each other! This is something that occurred during the second leg to the Maldives between Camper and Telefonica, but right now, there are still 1,000 miles to go so there's likely to be a fair amount of jockeying for position over the coming days…
Indeed the Argentine tango is likely to be played out on the bandoneon! We can expect the separation between the French and American boats to oscillate according to the meteorological micro-phenomena, the sail changes, and the short repositioning tacks as the wind shifts round to the North. In fact this double duple rhythm should alter the tempo from tonight because although the pace has already changed a number of times since Cape Horn, it finally woke up last night with the passage of a front rolling in from Argentina: a 25-knot south-westerly air flow enabled the leaders to accelerate at midday. However, the next stage is more complicated, because behind this deepening depression, which will track quickly across to South Africa, an anticyclone is forming over Rio de la Plata.
Heading along the coast of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil appears to be the gameplan for the duellists. The trajectory is a less risky one than heading offshore: in this area, the high pressure tends to sprawl eastwards, or to split away into several cells, which become hard to avoid. However, this coastal option is no picnic either! Initially the breeze will die away as Groupama 4 and Puma see the centre of the high pressure pass in front of their bows. After that, given that the system will shift offshore, it's along its western limit that the two crews will have to carve out a route towards Brazil. The route will be a chaotic one with around twenty knots of north-westerly wind, then fifteen knots of northerly. The duo will have to negotiate the wind shifts nicely and we can expect Franck Cammas and his men to be stuck to Ken Read and his crew like glue until they reach Itajai!
Standings on 2 April 2012 at 1300 UTC
1. Puma 1,033.3 miles from the finish
2. Groupama 6.5 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica 250.7 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper 1,701.8 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 1,828.0 miles astern of the leader
6. Sanya DNF.
Groupama Sailing team website
by Franck Cammas
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5:13 PM Mon 2 Apr 2012GMT
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