Though Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 team Groupama 4 is still managing to contain the attacks from the Spanish, on the seventh day of racing on leg seven, the Emirati leader has benefited from the light winds of the high pressure system to make good her escape. However, everyone still has to climb up to around 43° North to latch onto a solid south-westerly breeze, which will very quickly propel the fleet towards the finish. Franck Cammas and his men are preparing for a rather boisterous start to the week!
It's overnight this Sunday that the fleet will finally be able to set a direct course towards Lisbon, after a four day climb from 33°N to 43°N! They will have some light to moderate breeze to negotiate, a zone of high pressure to avoid, the warm current of the Gulf Stream to manage, some changes of rhythm to deal with, some cooler temperatures to front up to and some repositioning to anticipate: this rather unusual phase across the North Atlantic has seen the Emirati boat shine. Indeed the crew of Abu Dhabi has sailed superbly well, in some weather conditions which have finally smiled on the Farr Design, and Ian Walker and his men have made a clean break with a lead of around forty miles over their American rival in second place.
Leading the race for the past 48 hours, this Sunday lunchtime Abu Dhabi was the first to extract herself from the light airs of the zone of high pressure positioned to the South-East of Newfoundland's Grand Bank. Basically they were already being influenced by some WNW'ly winds of around fifteen knots which kicked in with the arrival of a depression from Labrador, whilst the Franco-Spanish duo were still in the throes of a breeze barely drumming up six knots. As such, the separation between the boats has considerably increased and the phenomenon should extend still further until tonight. At sunset the situation will stabilise once the fleet has continued to climb up to the North-East to really get into the teeth of this new polar wind.
In this way, the frontrunners will be able to make good their escape in a breeze which will shift round to the South-West, but this fresh breeze will build behind and hence favour the chasing pack. With over twenty knots expected, the tempo promises to be very steady and this is due to last for three days! In fact the disturbed system will slip along at the same speed as the Volvo Ocean Race boats all the way to the Azores, at which point it will be revived by another pretty deep depression, it too dropping down from Labrador. As such we can expect some very high average speeds each day from Tuesday, in this powerful SSW'ly wind and the fleet are likely to trace a virtually straight wake across the Atlantic until Wednesday evening.
Groupama 4 is unquestionably the most at ease in these boisterous reaching conditions and even though her delta in relation to the Emirati boat is likely to exceed a hundred miles tonight, the bulk of this should be recovered before the Atlantic archipelago. In any case, the fleet are set to stumble on a ridge of high pressure less than 400 miles from the finish in Lisbon. Indeed, given that the depression will remain very static in the middle of the ocean, the high pressure, which has (finally!) settled over Western Europe, will hinder progress.
A large zone between Ireland and Madeira will generate southerly wind to the West and northerly breezes on its continental aspect. Between the two, a zone of calms will need to be traversed… It's the entry into this ridge of high pressure, which will determine the best position to commit to this area of light airs. As a result, it's highly likely that nearly the whole fleet will end up within a few miles of each other just before the end of the leg! However, Franck Cammas and his men know that's it's always preferable to be in the position of leader when there's only one way out of a situation to complete the race. In any case, it's certainly the fastest phase of this circumnavigation of the globe, which is on the menu for the day after Pentecost…
Positions at 1600 UTC on 27/05/2012
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 1,650.8 miles from the finish
2. Puma – 64.1 miles astern of the leader
3. Camper – 72.8 miles astern of the leader
4. Groupama 4 – 103.3 miles astern of the leader
5. Telefonica – 106 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya – 130.20 miles astern of the leader
Groupama Sailing Team website
by Franck Cammas
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3:51 PM Sun 27 May 2012GMT
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