After six days of racing in this leg of the Volvo Ocean Race it has been an incredible turnabout, and some 1,600 miles have been covered since setting out from Cape Town, South Africa. Groupama 4 is making progress at 39° south whilst, the four other competitors are at 36° south with the crew of Sanya opting to open a new route out to the north. The exit from the front now appears to be within reach for Franck Cammas and his crew.
In a little over a day, Groupama 4 has covered over 200 miles in her bid to slip beneath the leading pack led by the Americans on Puma and the New Zealanders on Camper! It may be a surprising lateral separation, but it can be explained by the French skipper's desire to hunt down an easier passage to get past the front, which has been blocking everyone's route for the past three days or so...
'The seas aren't as big as they have been over recent days, but we still have a barrier to clear in front of us. Some have opted to go straight into it, telling themselves that at a given moment the barrier will open, whilst we are looking for holes in the fence...
That's why we've positioned ourselves to the South-East, so we can go around the barrier! It means we have to cover more ground and it's not positive for the standing for the moment since we're sailing at 90° to the route, but we hope to be the first to be able to hook onto the new wind, which will propel us on a direct course towards the finish' indicated Charles Caudrelier this Saturday morning.
With a westerly breeze (260°) of around fifteen knots early this Saturday afternoon, Groupama 4 really seems to have escaped this meteorological pitfall which has been sprawled across the route of the six VO-70s since Wednesday. Franck Cammas and his men have passed to the East of a barometric minimum which has formed at 39°30 South and 51°30 West, whilst the leading pack appeared to still be behind this decaying front with a southerly breeze (190°) of around a dozen knots.
Though the barrier appears to be astern of the French yacht, we'll have to wait until sunrise to be sure that the phenomenon won't boomerang back on her, which is what it has tended to do over recent hours... In any case, Groupama 4 can begin to bend her course towards the ENE, whilst her rivals are still trying to slip gradually round to the ESE to anticipate a way out.
Of note is the fact that yesterday's leaders, Telefonica and Abu Dhabi, who were positioned the furthest North of the fleet, are now behind those favouring a central route, Puma and Camper! As regards the Chinese boat, it would seem that the crew has `cracked': stumbling into the impenetrable front, Mike Sanderson has finally thrown in the towel to attempt a radical option which, in the coming hours, will cause him to lose a huge amount of ground since he's sailing at 90° to the direct route! Indeed, his choice is interesting in many ways, even though it's risky: Sanya will sail along the West face of the front to hook onto a SE'ly wind, which will very quickly carry her along to the South of Madagascar.
The Chinese yacht will benefit from steady or even boisterous downwind conditions, since a tropical depression is forming beneath the large African island... As such we can expect the Chinese team to take control of the standing in this second leg from Sunday evening.
It's the next stage in proceedings where the situation becomes complicated, as this type of weather phenomenon can become extremely violent with winds of over 45 knots, or even transform into a hurricane with winds in excess of 60 knots beneath the cumulonimbus! Above all though, when the system deteriorates on site, it will literally pump out all the breeze within a band of over a hundred miles...
Within the next three days, a vast formless magma will block the way between Madagascar and Réunion Island. In contrast, the easterly tradewinds will certainly be present offshore of Mauritius, a zone which Groupama 4 is seeking to reach via its long southern parabola!
To sum up the situation, the fleet are divided between three options which are pretty much long term: in the one instance, the French boat which is going right around the outside to the South so as to reposition herself on the northern edge of the Mascareignes High around the middle of next week; on the other the Chinese boat which has gone off on her own to the North, so as to trace a sine curve wave around a tropical depression which is forming and should then take pole position over the short term; finally, in the centre, the four VO-70s aren't keen to take the initiative and are instead sticking with each other in the hope that they can make a difference on pure speed and micro tactical options. Position Leg 2 from Cape Town - Abu Dhabi at 1600 UTC on 17/12/2011:
1 - Camper
2 - Puma - 0,2 miles astern of the leader
3- Abu Dhabi - 3,80 miles astern of the leader
4 – Telefonica - 23,90 miles astern of the leader
5 - Sanya - 28,60 miles astern of the leader
6 - Groupama 4 - 88,50 miles astern of the leader
Volvo Ocean Race website