Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 team Groupama 4 are currently on day two of leg eight and have moved into pole position less than fifty miles from the first island in the Azorean archipelago, thanks to her potential in the current reaching conditions, as well as a clever sidestep to windward of the group. The boats should round the island of Sao Miguel tonight, at which point they'll be able to latch onto the steadier breeze of an Atlantic depression.
The laborious start in Lisbon is already ancient history: Franck Cammas and his men certainly haven't been dawdling. They managed to catch up with the head of the fleet within 24 hours, before starting to claw back the miles on Groupama 4's two sisterships. In a reaching wind bordering on about twenty knots, the French boat is unquestionably the quickest and the Americans were the first to confirm that, whilst the Spanish had to let the high-speed train past shortly afterwards… And yet the wind was beginning to ease during this time as the fleet gradually closed on the heart of the Azores High and at noon this Tuesday, as they approached Santa Maria, Groupama 4 was polled as leader.
The crew of the French boat cleverly performed a little 2-mile counter tack to reposition herself to windward of the fleet, which was sailing in around ten knots of north-westerly breeze. Indeed, as they approach the volcanic landmass that makes up the Azores, the wind is set to shift round to the West after a fairly light passage at dusk. At that point they will have to try to gain ground to the North to round the centre of high pressure situated to the South-West of Santa Maria. It's this beat towards the turning mark which may create some separation over the coming hours, but already those boats further South, such as Camper and Abu Dhabi, aren't having much fun with a breeze which is heading them and forcing them to set a course towards the South-West to make headway.
As a result, Franck Cammas and his crew were sailing within sight of the Spanish, who are proving to be their most dangerous rivals in this phase of light winds, as Telefonica is especially quick upwind in the light airs. The controlling position Groupama 4 has secured to windward is an important bonus because, if things pan out as planned, the breeze is more stable and slightly denser to the North. It'll seem like one of the longest night's for the French crew tonight, though we're a few days shy of the longest day yet…
On the cards at the end of this 100-mile light air wading session is a dive North once they're around the volcanic island. They mustn't get too close to land, which exceeds 1,000 metres high in places, where the wind will be very disturbed. Once clear of this zone however, there won't be any more obstacles because some fifty miles or so to the North of Sao Miguel, the wind will build under the influence of an Atlantic depression, which is shifting towards Ireland. The first to extract themselves from the Azorean archipelago will stretch out a lead and is likely to reach Cape Finisterre (770 miles from Sao Miguel) in around thirty knots of south-westerly breeze!
The finish in Lorient is scheduled for Friday and if the boats don't struggle too much tonight in their mission to round the Azores mark, the leaders could even finish by noon! The final sprint is going to be extremely boisterous then. All the crews will be trying to be a cut above the rest on this section of the course, which will require a good compromise between speed and preservation of the gear. The stakes are high for us: if the Spanish finish two places ahead of Groupama 4 in Brittany, they'll snatch back the overall lead. However, if Franck Cammas and his men manage to assert themselves in home waters, they'll be on the right track to ultimate victory in Galway…
Positions at 1300 UTC on 12/06/2012
1. Groupama 4– 1,260.9 miles from the finish
2. Telefonica – 2.1 miles astern of the leader
3. Puma – 4.7 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper – 8.0 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 8.1 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya – 16.6 miles astern of the leader
Groupama Sailing Team website
by Franck Cammas
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4:47 PM Tue 12 Jun 2012GMT
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2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race
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