Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 lead the fleet on the tenth day of leg two from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi. Former leaders Team Sanya suspended racing to make an enforced pit stop in Madagascar.
Franck Cammas' Groupama 4 overhauled the fleet in the early hours after their easterly course and better wind angle paid dividends overnight.
Groupama's superior positioning came after they broke away from the fleet and headed deep into the south to pick up better breeze. Now, as the rest of the fleet struggles to steer clear of strong headwinds from a tropical depression in the west, the French team are experiencing winds from further astern enabling them to hit 20 knots of boat speed at times. Groupama skipper Franck Cammas said the mood on board was excellent despite fire hose conditions that have seen the team reach for their helmets while on deck.
'We are leading at the moment and it's great,' he said. 'There are lots of smiles on the faces when the position reports come in now. We didn't rest since the start and didn't give up on our position, even though we hesitated at some point.
'On deck, it's wet and you need to wear the helmet. Without it, it's impossible to see the bow. Yet, it surely isn't as uncomfortable as our competitors, who are sailing closer to the wind.'
Groupama's advantage is likely to continue for at least the next 24 hours as the speed of the westerly pack is capped by their inferior wind angle. With the fleet closing in on the Doldrums, Cammas says Groupama must make the most of their current situation.
'We need to gain miles when we can, before less predictable areas such as the Doldrums,' he said. 'We have 40 hours left in these conditions. We are pushing as much as possible to gain as much as possible.'
Meanwhile Team Sanya arrived in southeast Madagascar, where the team will meet with their shore crew and mast experts to establish a schedule to repair rigging damaged early on Monday when the Chinese team were leading the fleet.
Navigator Aksel Magdahl informed race control that Sanya were officially suspending racing at 0807 UTC on Tuesday just before before the boat docked.
Skipper Mike Sanderson has described their situation as 'down but not out' and said the crew and shore team were now focused on finding the quickest way to return to racing.
'We have got to get ashore and get our plan firmly locked in,' he said. 'Our mast and rig supplier are moving heaven and earth to make sure we get back in the race as soon as possible.
'We have got a great shore crew and they are coming up with action plans.'
Team Sanya, the first sole Chinese entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, were forced to retire from leg one after suffering severe damage to their bow on the first night. A mammoth logistics operation saw the boat shipped to Cape Town where a new bow section was grafted into the boat just days before racing recommenced.
They have not retired from leg two and can still score points for every stage even if they miss the ship that will transport the boats from a secret safe haven port through piracy affected waters to a point off the Sharjah coastline.
At the 1300 UTC position report Groupama had opened up a 24 nautical mile lead over Iker Martínez's second placed Team Telefónica, the overall leaders. Ken Read's Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg and Chris Nicholson's Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand were slugging it out in third and fourth respectively, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing behind them.
'We have started to make some small gains on those ahead which is both nice to see and good for morale – long may they continue!' said Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi's Azzam.
'Yesterday we were shocked to hear Sanya's news and so pleased they did not break their mast – those guys deserved better after sailing a really nice leg. Good luck Team Sanya and get back in the race soon!'