Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 team Groupama 4 are on day four of leg eight from Lisbon to Lorient. Less than 24 hours from the finish offshore of the island of Groix, the pace has shot up as the fleet approach the centre of the Atlantic depression: over thirty knots of wind and some staggering speeds! Groupama 4 snatched back the controls early this afternoon when the Spanish suffered a technical issue. Now less than 450 miles from Lorient, the finish is scheduled for midway through Friday.
It has taken a circumnavigation of the globe for the Volvo Ocean Race boats to get the speedos spinning: peaks of speed at over thirty-five knots and some average speeds of over 27 knots… After the light airs of the Azores, the fleet has entered a depression synonymous with westerly winds of twenty knots, gradually increasing to 30-35 knots, with the worst of the gales set to hit late afternoon this Thursday. This timing is likely to tie in with a key decision to gybe onto the home straight to Lorient…
Shortly before night fell yesterday, Franck Cammas and his men were on red alert when the mainsail lock stuck at the masthead just as the breeze was beginning to build: the hook system, which enables the sail to be held in place, got jammed and Brad Marsh had to climb to the top of the mast three times to resolve the problem…
'We couldn't put a reef in the mainsail as the car was trapped: as such we managed to install another car so we could reduce the sail down to two reefs. We'll see how things go on Friday morning when we try to shake out a reef because right now the profile of the mainsail doesn't look great… It wasn't easy for Brad up the mast and it was pretty tricky for the helmsman too, who tried to ensure he wasn't shaken about too much. Fortunately it's not a wing mast and he was able to get a grip on it to scale it and effect repairs. The major issue revolved around dumping the sail downwind with the leeward runner on.'
Fortunately this technical hitch occurred before dusk and Franck Cammas and his crew were able to power up again under reduced sail area whilst the breeze picked up to over thirty knots. Their deficit in relation to the Spanish leaders stretched to over eleven miles at one point, but they quickly reduced it to six miles with the Americans within their sights to windward. Despite this slight, fleeting drop in pace, Groupama 4 has racked up 560 miles over the past 24 hours (from 1300 UTC on Wednesday to 1300 UTC Thursday), which is her greatest distance since the start of the Volvo Ocean Race in Alicante!
'We had to be on the attack to recover our lost miles: we've had some good conditions over the past 24 hours, but I'm not sure if we'll manage to border on 600 miles/day. Up to 30-35 knots is okay, but after that things become a bit rock & roll… This evening, things are going to be pretty full-on when it comes to gybing, but we don't have a third reef in any case! At the helm, you have to be able to nail the moves that involve compensating for the holes on the back of the waves and then powering the boat up again, similar to the scenario on a multihull, so as to avoid burying the bow. This involves a lot more work than on a trimaran so we're only helming a maximum of two hours,' indicated Franck Cammas at the noon radio link-up this Thursday.
The big news on this ‘Big Thursday' is the sudden stalling by Telefonica shortly before 1300 UTC: the Spanish were continuing to make headway towards Lorient, but with speeds of less than seven knots… whilst the three other pretenders for podium places were still hurtling along at 24 knots. Is it a momentary issue as was the case on Groupama 4 on Wednesday evening, or is there more serious damage? It would seem that a rudder issue is the source of this drop in pace, but Telefonica had her accelerator pressed to the floor again an hour and a half later. This twist of fate for the Iberians has put her position on the final podium at risk because if the Hispanic boat finishes shy of third place, her hopes of an outright win in Galway could be thrown open.
'This lunchtime we're sailing in 30 to 32 knots of westerly wind: it's a bit lively as the sea is chaotic, but things are pretty steady in terms of speed! We can see Puma behind us. We're going to have to put in a gybe at the end of the day when there's a lot of breeze around. It's not going to be an easy moment! We're going to have to stick it out for 3-4 hours with over 40 knots, as the wind isn't set to decrease until after midnight. Right now there's just twenty minutes' separation between the frontrunner and the fourth placed boat: a lot could happen between now and Groix with the gybe, the increase in breeze and the sail changes, but things are going to be tight right the way to Lorient as we'll still have 25-30 knots', explained the skipper of Groupama 4.
Whilst the breeze is set to increase to over 40 knots at dusk, keeping control of the gear will become more important than outright speed: the slightest incident can cost very dearly, as we've seen with Telefonica, who lost around fifteen miles in an hour and a half…
'Everyone's on the attack: it's full-on and pretty stressful because we need everything intact to make the finish… We should see Groix late morning on Friday. The race is likely to be decided on the gybe as there aren't really any options to be had in these conditions…'
Positions at 1300 UTC on 14/06/2012
1. Groupama 4 – 452.6 miles from the finish
2. Puma – 3.7 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica – 3.8 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper– 5.1 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 31.8 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya – 70.6 miles astern of the leader
Groupama Sailing Team website
by Franck Cammas
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3:49 PM Thu 14 Jun 2012GMT
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