Volvo Ocean Race teams Groupama 4 and Puma Ocean Racing remain neck and neck on the sixteenth day of racing in leg five, from Auckland to Itajai.
The climb up to Itajai has got its bearings since this Tuesday morning: wind on the nose in a moderate northerly wind. And this scenario is likely to remain the same through until Wednesday evening. Still within sight of the Americans, Franck Cammas and his men will have to make their way along the coast of Argentina, then Uruguay, before negotiating a sizeable transition zone and a scheduled finish on Friday evening…
After a fast, full-on descent of the South Pacific, followed by a zone of Argentinean ‘pampas', alternating between vast plains and small meteorological hills, the path towards Brazil is set to culminate with a long chaotic climb along the edge of a vast anticyclonic plateau. The journey is likely to be a long and winding one as the high pressure will be pushing offshore to leave way on Wednesday evening for a stormy depression, which is forming in the Rio de la Plata estuary. As such the breeze will shift round to the NNE, which is exactly where the leaders are heading, until the front associated with this disturbed system dramatically upsets the situation just a few hundred miles from the finish… And so the match race Groupama 4 and Puma are currently embroiled in is likely to go on interrupted...
'Puma is to windward of us, about 4-5 miles away: we've been sailing close-hauled in twelve knots of breeze since Monday evening. This kind of close-contact racing is really enjoyable! In fact we've had a good deal of it since Cape Town as we've often been within sight of one or several competitors. This situation is reminiscent of a Tour de France à la Voile, and it's a constant pressure. However, the wind is due to shift round before Itajai and we'll be able to make the most of Groupama 4's speed when sailing with sheets eased. Puma is on our tail to try to close down on us and the Americans look to be waiting to see how we react. Even at night, they're on the look-out and ten minutes after our change of tack under the cover of darkness, they've mirrored our movements: they can keep an eye on us with both binoculars and the radar… I don't think we're going to leave each others sides until the finish!' commented Franck Cammas at the noon videoconference this Tuesday.
Behind them too, the pressure is intensifying with the return of the Spanish, who've been favoured by a more propulsive weather system. Since getting back into the race at Cape Horn, with a deficit of some 400 miles, Iker Martinez appeared to be confined to the role of third man. However, the Argentinean winds have given the Iberians wings, and at noon this Tuesday they were just a hundred miles shy of the top two. This rather different weather configuration will become less marked the closer Telefonica gets to Groupama 4 and Puma. As such, if things pan out as they should, the three boats will be navigating in similar conditions from then on.
'We knew that Telefonica could make a comeback but she's been in a different weather system, which will no longer be the case soon. She may snatch back another 30 miles on us over the coming hours, and the three still operational boats will all the be in with a chance of victory in Brazil. There are no marked options to be had: the optimum trajectory has been traced, but there will be some slight repositioning according to the 5 to 10° wind shifts. The only thing is that at the end of the course, a front coming up behind us may well enable us to pick up the pace so it will be advisable to be well placed for that as there will be a difficult transition zone to negotiate, just 150 miles from the finish.'
It's off Buenos Aires that the pièce de résistance of this fifth leg will be served up! Indeed, after a rather copious menu since setting out from Auckland, the guests are still a long way off the caïpirinha… Wednesday evening promises to be a hard night with a stormy depression forming over Uruguay, which will provide its share of rains and erratic winds. The only positive point is the heat which will soar, enabling the crew to finally get a wash and change, get some air running through the inside of Groupama 4 and muster its strength for this final sprint to Brazil.
'The temperature hasn't really increased since Cape Horn, as we've remained in a cold current until last night. However, the sea state is considerably flatter and we're sleeping a lot better onboard. We can get some rest and certain little injuries have been slowly mending themselves over the past few days. However, the degree of comfort is a lot better! Groupama 4 is doing well after avoiding breakage in the South Pacific: we had the chance to cant her over after the Horn to check there weren't any apparent cracks or impact marks. We've got some slight damage but nothing serious, including a broken bunk and a fallen chart table… Groupama 4 is in tip-top condition and for that we send our hearty congratulations to the shore crew!'
Of note is that Camper passed in front of Chiloé Island in Chile this Tuesday at 0130 UTC to effect repairs to her bow in Puerto Montt. Abu Dhabi is continuing on her way but hasn't yet indicated whether or not the crew is intending to make a pit stop to limit her hull delamination. It may be that they're considering diving due South towards Cape Horn having let a very big and very nasty depression roll by them, which is set to traverse Tierra del Fuego on Wednesday.
Standings on 3 April 2012 at 1300 UTC
1. Groupama 852.8 miles from the finish
2. Puma 0.7 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica 95.7 miles astern of the leader
4. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 1,855.7 miles astern of the leader
5. Camper suspended racing temporarily
6. Sanya DNF
Groupama Sailing Team website
by Franck Cammas
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3:00 PM Tue 3 Apr 2012GMT
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2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race
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