Volvo Ocean Race teams Groupama 4 and Puma Ocean Racing are continuing their close-contact match off Plate River, on the seventeenth day of racing in leg five from Auckland to Itajai.
A lot further South, the Spanish are gradually clawing back their deficit… The trajectory against a moderate northerly wind will take the leading duo along the coast of Uruguay and Brazil as far as Itajai, as a storm front is set to favour those on the inshore option.
Side by side and on the coast! The differential between Groupama 4 and Puma is still just as slim: barely six miles in relation to the goal, with just eight miles of lateral separation. The Americans have opted to sail to windward of the French, in the hope that the wind shifts due to the proximity of land will favour them. However, for the moment, the focus is on traversing the immense Rio de la Plata estuary which separates Argentina from Uruguay and spans nearly 120 miles. The brackish water here is laden with alluvial deposits carried along by the 'river of silver'. Furthermore the tidal currents in this area cannot be ignored, which is why the navigator on Groupama 4, Jean-Luc Nélias, would have been led to steer clear of the estuary…
The incessant to-ings and fro-ings amidst the tack changes are far from over for the two crews. For the past three days, Groupama 4 and Puma have been involved in an intense naval battle and sailing within sight of each other: as such it was a bit of surprise this Wednesday morning to observe that Ken Read had switched strategy by dipping into the Argentinean coast, just eleven miles from the beaches of Mar del Plata… This lateral separation was aimed at making the most of the slight wind shifts on the approach to the coast of Uruguay. However, it's likely that once they're clear of the estuary, Franck Cammas and his men will cover the Americans once more and hopefully get to windward of them.
Meanwhile, the Spanish are still making the most of a slightly steadier wind, which is blowing in more from the North-West now, enabling them to claw back some miles. However, though Telefonica is positioned just fifty miles or so from the top two, this is in relation to the finish line. In fact, the lateral separation amounts to some 120 miles! Furthermore, a storm front is expected midway through tonight (Brazilian time). This rainy system will shed a whole new light on proceedings: the northerly wind of around twenty knots will suddenly swing round to become a 25-knot westerly breeze, before very quickly shifting round to the South-West, with some violent gusts beneath the squalls. As such, the two leading boats will be the first to benefit from this 180° wind shift. As a result, making landfall in Itajai is set to be high-speed, since the front will move offshore as it climbs the Brazilian coast, and the south-westerly breeze of around twenty knots will stretch as far as the finish line on Friday…
Martin Stromberg, one of the two Swedes aboard Groupama 4, celebrated his thirtieth birthday this Wednesday! It proved to be a slightly strange birthday as the present intended for the event remains beneath all the stacked gear… As such the trimmer-helm will have to wait until the finish in Itajai before he's given it.
Finally, on the coast of Chile, Camper's crew is already effecting repairs to the forward bulkhead and the bow, but the New Zealanders are reckoning on four days to complete the work before the boat can be relaunched for the drop down to Cape Horn and then the climb up to Brazil, some 3,000 miles ahead of them! As for Abu Dhabi, she finally headed to Puerto Montt as well, and is due to reach port early afternoon (European time): Ian Walker and his men announced in a press release that they were withdrawing from this leg so as to have time to repair the damaged hull before the racing starts in Itajai.
Standings on 4 April 2012 at 1300 UTC
1. Groupama 630.9 miles from the finish
2. Puma 2.2 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica 46.5 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper suspended racing temporarily astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing DNF
6. Sanya DNF.
Groupama Sailing Team website
by Franck Cammas
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3:10 PM Wed 4 Apr 2012GMT
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