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Volvo Ocean Race - Full speed ahead for Groupama crew

by Sophie Luther on 21 Dec 2011
Groupama Sailing Team during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team © /Volvo Ocean Race http://www.cammas-groupama.com/
In the Volvo Ocean Race, Franck Cammas and his men aboard Groupama 4 spent the greater part of Leg 1 alone and with no opportunity to change the situation. The crew are now enjoying each moment of their well-earned lead, which could well deliver a Leg 2 victory.

'We are coming back step by step,' Cammas said as Groupama sailing team pressed on this afternoon. 'We are leading at the moment and it is great. There are lots of smiles on faces when the position report comes in now.'

However, it will not be a walkover. Cammas, competing in his first Volvo Ocean Race, is being pushed hard by race veterans who are nipping at his heels and ready to take advantage in any way they can. With still half the leg yet to complete and a widening band of Doldrums to negotiate, it is far from a foregone conclusion.

For most of the afternoon, Groupama 4 has been averaging just under 19 knots boat speed, rivalled only by third-placed Puma’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) almost two knots slower. Wind speeds hover between 20 knots on the beam for the French team and up to 28 knots of headwinds for the chasing pack who are 135 nautical miles further to the west.

On board Groupama 4 it is wet and wild. Helmets are a necessity as the crew is constantly fire-hosed. For the four boats sailing close-hauled, it is much wetter.

Although Cammas is a newcomer to the Volvo, he is an experienced round the world racer and is not afraid to take radical tactical decisions, although those taken on Leg 1 did not play out in the way he expected.

'We did have some kind of complex after the first leg - we didn't want to go it alone,' Cammas explains. 'When we saw that big gate in the south of the front, we went for it but no one else did.'

Ken Read, currently steering Mar Mostro in third place, said he took his hat off to Cammas for making the bold decision to break from the fleet and go south: 'I give the French credit. They took matters into their own hands. They stuck to their guns and went for it and it looks like it’s going to pay off for them, at least for now.'

Read had flirted with both the northerly option taken by Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) and the Groupama 4’s route in the south, but ended up on the safer middle ground together with Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), currently lying second, Camper (Chris Nicholson/AUS) in fourth, and, to a lesser extent, Azzam (Ian Walker/GBR) who now 161.2 nm adrift.

But Read is ultimately happy with where his boat is. 'We’re happy with how the boat’s going in our little group of three with Telefónica and Camper and at this point we like our position,' the American skipper said.

Far away to the west in Madagascar, the racing crew and shore crew of Team Sanya, which suspended racing early this morning, is busy examining the state of the boat’s rig after the D2 part of the standing rigging was found swaying unattached in the wind on Monday.

Skipper Mike Sanderson explains what needs to happen to ensure the Chinese boat is back on the water and completing Leg 2 as soon as possible. 'We’ve got our hands full because now there is an inherent issue with our rigging solution. It’s not as if we can just replace this one stay, we are replacing all the stays on the side rigging on both sides, so it’s no small task.’’

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