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Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 prepare for tough conditions

by Franck Cammas on 18 Mar 2012
Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Franck Cammas from France in tough conditions, at the start of leg 5 from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.volvooceanrace.com
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 set off on the fifth leg of racing, a 6,705-mile journey from Auckland (New Zealand) to Itajai (Brazil), in around twenty knots of breeze. This leg of the Volvo Ocean Race is the main leg of this round the world and includes the famous passage around Cape Horn!

Today, at 1400 hours local time, the New Zealand crowds were out in force for the start of the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, beneath overcast skies, turning rainy, and a good westerly breeze. Mike Sanderson got off to the best start and Sanya led the fleet along the preliminary course off the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and as far as Auckland Harbour Bridge, before striking out across the Hauraki Gulf to get offshore. Ahead of them lies the longest and hardest of the legs that make up this circumnavigation of the globe, with the legendary passage around Cape Horn in around eight days' time. It will be a magical and crucial moment for the crew of Groupama 4, more than half of which have already negotiated Drake Passage. Indeed Thomas Coville has one of the most impressive backgrounds in this edition of the crewed round the world race with no less than eight Cape Horn roundings to his credit!

As is the case prior to every offshore leg, and to the great delight of the spectators, both on land and at sea, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet kicked off with a coastal course. Prudence is the name of the game on the looped circuit along the narrow channel off Auckland. Damaging the boat or a sail at this stage could call into question how the upcoming leg unfolds. Arriving early at the line, the French boat wasn't able to power off the start, which meant she wasn't able to make up the lost ground on her rivals over the short bay course. However, four hours after the start, Franck Cammas' crew were up into second place, just 0.4 miles shy of the frontrunner.

The start off Auckland's harbour was a lively one, brushed by around twenty knots of breeze. The exit towards the Pacific will be boisterous in a breeze which is set to build the further offshore the VO-70s get. A depression has settled in the North of New Zealand and the wind is set to pick up to over thirty knots as it shifts round to the South-West over the coming hours. As such the sailors are preparing for a hard first night onboard. Such an introduction will impose a very tough rhythm, the wind rapidly shifting round to the North-East, picking up a messy sea on Monday morning.

Franck Cammas: 'Conditions are going to be tough tonight and tomorrow. We're going to have to pass a headland outside Auckland with a great deal of headwind, current and big seas. The first thirty-six hours will doubtless be the hardest part of this leg. We can expect wind of up to 50 knots and the accompanying seas. Over the duration of the leg, we're going to have some windy conditions, but in principle it'll be downwind. As a result it will be better than at the start, most of which is likely to be upwind in principle. With strong wind on a downwind point of sail, the boats can enjoy some fantastic surfing which, though a little stressful, will see us making some incredible speeds that will be unforgettable. The skipper's job is to set the pace for his crew. Sometimes it will be necessary to ease off the pace to avoid breaking the boat or the sails so as to be able to continue racing. This leg won't be decided at Cape Horn. It will certainly be played out after that. As such it's important to have the boat in good condition at Cape Horn for the final sprint, which will be crucial with the more changeable conditions.'

Charles Caudrelier: 'There's a little stress as the first thirty hours are going to be tough, sailing into headwinds with big seas. We'll be fearful for the boat and it's not nice to set off like that. Yesterday we slept at the hotel and this evening we'll sleep in 6-metre waves, all wet, slamming along and getting tossed around. It's a stark contrast. I think this is going to be the hardest leg on a physical level. We're going to be cold with the water temperature dropping to 5°C. It's going to be very fast and we're going to have 12 very difficult days ahead of us. The passage around Cape Horn will be the deliverance. For me this will be my first Pacific crossing. I hope there will be some enjoyable times because that's one of the reasons we're doing this. Sometimes though the proportion of enjoyment will be 10% compared with 90% suffering. Clearly we're heading off on a leg which will involve a high rate of difficulty. However, that's what gives this race the notion of challenge, adventure and extreme.'

Jean-Luc Nélias: 'I'm not familiar with this area; I'm a Cape Horn rookie, I've never been around it. It's a long leg in some tough conditions as we'll be sailing in the Southern Pacific, even though we have safety gates to push us North and help us avoid encountering icebergs. However, there's a risk that we'll come across a little bit of ice; it's cold, the winds are strong and even from today at the start and for the next 48 hours, the weather isn't far off atrocious. We won the last leg so we're keen to do as well this time. There are a lot of options from the outset, we mustn't break the boat and we have to know when to ease off the pace and decide: do we go to the South/ to the North, do we cover the fleet or not? As I speak, we're not 100% sure what we're going to do once we're out of the Hauraki Gulf.'

Crew list for Leg 5 from Auckland – Itajai (in brackets the number of passages around Cape Horn)
Franck Cammas (1)
Thomas Coville (8)
Damian Foxall (6)
Phil Harmer (1)
Martin Strömberg (1)
Laurent Pagès (0)
Charles Caudrelier (0)
Martin Krite (1)
Brad Marsh (0)
Jean-Luc Nélias (0)
Yann Riou (0)

Position at 0700 UTC on 18/03/2012
1. Camper 6,661.5 miles from the finish
2. Puma – 0.7 miles astern of the leader
3. Groupama 4- 0.8 miles astern of the leader
4. Telefonica – 1.2 miles astern of the leader
5. Team Sanya – 1.3 miles astern of the leader
6. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 8.1 miles astern of the

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