Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 has been sailing in the high pressure of the South Atlantic since Thursday evening and still has 1,000 miles to go to the finish of leg one in Cape Town.
The two leaders have increased their lead with every hour and are likely to continue in that vein this weekend as Franck Cammas and his men have to pick through the Saint Helena High.
After some big surfing over the past two days, sailing conditions have changed dramatically for the three boats still racing in the Volvo Ocean Race. Behind the front, which has been propelling them along at speed towards the finish, the high pressure has moved back into position, starting with the tail of the fleet. As such Groupama 4 has been the first to be affected by this new configuration. Her crew put in a gybe on Thursday evening when the wind shifted round to the West as it eased, followed three hours later by the New Zealanders and in the early hours by the Spaniards. For the two leaders, the goal was to set a direct course for Cape Town, now less than 530 miles ahead of Telefonica and less than 675 miles ahead of Camper, in a southerly air flow, which is likely to accompany them as far as South Africa. This breeze of twelve to fifteen knots bodes well for a finish late afternoon on Saturday for the Spanish, and early Sunday for the New Zealanders.
For Groupama 4, the last 1,000 miles promise to be a long, slow procession in the light airs of the Saint Helena High! Already stalling in less than eighteen knots of breeze, the French boat is also having to bend her course round as she has to deal with easterly headwinds... In fact Franck Cammas and his crew have got nearly 500 miles of sailing to perform in light, fluky winds before hooking back onto a steady SSE'ly wind. Indeed, the closer they get to South Africa, the more likely the high pressure will be to make headway at the same speed as them. In the meantime they'll just have to wait patiently!
Fortunately, the last hundred miles or so will be a lot more pleasant with around twenty knots of breeze on the beam, rising temperatures and the certainty of a warm welcome. Indeed, even with a deficit of over 700 miles and a finish in Cape Town over two days later (ETA Monday evening), the results for Groupama 4 remain extremely positive: a guaranteed podium place, a boat in tip-top condition, a united crew, unquestionable potential, particularly when sailing with eased sheets and a considerable wealth of experience gained for the next stage of the race. At the end of this first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, Franck Cammas and his men will still have a fifteen-point lead over the three boats which haven't managed to finish the leg, and a deficit of just nine points in relation to the likely winner, Telefonica... Indeed, there is very little chance now that the New Zealanders will manage to catch the Spanish, and even less likelihood that they'll pip them to the post. Position at 1400 UTC on 25/11/2011
1. Telefonica - 525.7 miles from the finish
2. Camper - 146.9 astern of the leader
3. Groupama 4 - 517 astern of the leader
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