Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 was less than 450 miles from the leg one finish in Cape Town, mid-afternoon this Sunday, 27th November. Franck Cammas and his men were sailing in a moderate north-westerly breeze, but have yet to traverse the Saint Helena High one last time. Their arrival in Cape Town is scheduled for Tuesday.
Looking at the standing for this first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, the results can be analysed in two ways. In terms of points, Groupama 4 is set to finish on the third step of the podium after the first two races, just nine points shy of the leader, Telefonica, and seven points astern of the second placed Camper. She is also likely to boast a sixteen point lead over fourth placed Abu Dhabi, seventeen points ahead of fifth placed Puma, and nineteen points in front of sixth placed Sanya. In terms of time-distance however, the separation between the top three in Cape Town is particularly high as the New Zealanders made it into South Africa with a 16hr 34' 57' deficit in relation to the Spanish, who covered the 6,500 mile first leg in 21d 05h 14' 25', at an average speed along the great circle route of 12.75 knots.
All in all, the breeze has remained moderate, with the exception of the Mediterranean where there was over thirty knots, gusting to forty knots, and the finish in South Africa where the wind exceeded thirty knots again. However, between the Strait of Gibraltar and the area surrounding South Africa, the average wind was around 14 knots, with a day and a half of between 20 and 25 knots during the rounding of the Saint Helena High in the Roaring Forties. Moreover, the weather conditions have virtually always favoured the leaders since the fleet passed the Cape Verde archipelago. Indeed it proved to be a difficult Doldrums for Camper and above all for Groupama 4, with the tradewinds gaining power for those further South, the Forties being more boisterous for the frontrunners, and the final few hundred miles, which were windier for the leader.
Evidence of this comes with the growing separation between Camper and Telefonica, which saw the Spanish team almost double their lead to finish 210 miles in front. This configuration was even more penalising for Groupama 4, which has also seen her deficit more than double to reach 830 miles, compared with just 350 miles two days earlier! Basically, the sailing conditions haven't been anywhere like the same since Cape Verde, to the detriment of the pursuers, and the time-distance deficits in Cape Town are certainly not symptomatic of a difference in potential between the boats. Above all, this first leg demonstrates that the reliability of gear is a key factor since the first three into South Africa have or are set to have completed the race in tip-top condition, while the other three have been severely penalised by having to make landfall in South Africa in a cargo ship and the considerable reconfiguration work involved in that. As such, the latter trio are unlikely to be able to set off on the second leg with complete confidence.
For Franck Cammas and his crew, there is certainly a sense of disappointment in still being at sea whilst the first two celebrate their arrival: 'There are others who must be in the process of crossing that line at this very moment. Congratulations to them! They've won a leg of the Volvo and a Saturday evening in the dry in good company! For us, the race has obviously become less interesting... Fortunately we've latched onto some more wind, which we should manage to keep hold of for 24 hours, before we have to traverse one last ridge of high pressure. Neptune hasn't really spared us as far as that's concerned...' wrote Yann Riou on Saturday afternoon.
In fact the last 450 miles to go aren't forecast to be very windy for the French boat, which will have to traverse the high pressure before she can stand a chance of hooking onto a south-easterly breeze at the finish... The crew of Groupama 4 will have nevertheless been satisfied with attempting something different from the start of the race, even though it didn't quite pan out in the way they'd have liked. They'll also be pleased that they've managed to get the most out of their Juan Kouyoumdjian design, without damaging her integrity, and have got the measure of the machine and collectively stuck to their strategic choices. With a temperature on the up, a very moderate breeze and a calmer sea, the final Monday at sea should give the eleven crew on Groupama 4 some degree of comfort. Groupama Sailing Team website