Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 team Groupama 4 are currently on day one of leg eight, from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient, France.
On Tuesday morning, things are set to become more complicated once the boats close on the centre of a large zone of high pressure, which has settled just to the South of the Azores. Whilst the first 24 hours of this eighth leg have been quick, enabling Groupama 4 to make up ground on the head of the fleet, the pace is set to slow dramatically from around midnight this Monday, as they approach the island of Santa Maria.
The preliminary stage of this course didn't prove favourable for Franck Cammas and his men, but as soon as Groupama 4 made it out into the Atlantic, the potential of the French boat could really be expressed, in a reaching wind of around twenty knots. By slipping beneath the fleet, navigator Jean-Luc Nélias was seeking a better angle with which to outpace the Chinese boat first of all, midway through the afternoon, followed by the New Zealanders midway through the night and the Americans at lunchtime this Monday! As was the case in the previous Atlantic sprint, Franck Cammas and his crew are particularly at ease in these conditions where they can crack off the sheets. They've even succeeded in repositioning themselves to windward of the troop…
With a north-westerly wind blowing as they exited the Tagus River, the navigators opted to lengthen their stride by diving down to the South-West at an average speed of nearly twenty knots, before hooking onto a slow climb up towards the Atlantic archipelago. The breeze is set to ease progressively as it shifts round to the North and shortly before midnight, there will only be about ten knots on the anemometer. As such the crews will turn off to pass to the North of Santa Maria, as the centre of the high pressure is just below this first Azorean isle. It's at this point that the strategy will be key, as the teams will have to try to avoid the zones of calm by closing on the landmass of Sao Miguel in a light westerly headwind.
It's on Wednesday morning that this leg is likely to be settled: the first around this course mark will be able to quickly climb northwards so as to distance themselves from the archipelago and should be able to latch onto a steadier breeze since a depression has formed in the middle of the Atlantic. However, this disturbed system will shift across towards the UK over the coming days and push the whole fleet towards the finish in Lorient! With this in mind, it will be crucial to catch the first train bound for Brittany…
With two and a half miles of lateral separation in relation to the Spanish boat, Groupama 4 is well placed to traverse this key passage. However, Franck Cammas and his men know that Telefonica is especially quick close-hauled in light airs. It's important not to fall off the pace once the breeze eases tonight. For now, there are no significant tactical options: everyone is following roughly the same course and it's at the point where they have to launch into a beat beneath the cliffs of Sao Miguel that their current separation may prove productive.
Things are likely to be somewhat clearer by Tuesday then, even though it would seem that ultimately the weather situation is less complicated than planned as they approach the islands: the centre of the high pressure is shifting very slightly southwards under the pressure of the disturbed air and if everything pans out as it should, there are unlikely to be extensive periods of calm within the archipelago.
As a result, it's during what's shaping up to be a very lively final sprint that the differences will be made: downwind with over thirty knots of breeze and a big swell, the fleet are sure to have an opportunity to exceed 500 miles over 24 hours! However, it's going to be important to keep a check on the accelerator so as not to break anything. Some crews don't have a lot to lose and everything to gain by forcing the tempo, whilst others, like Franck Cammas and his men, know that the slightest technical hitch (ref. the Cape Horn leg) can cost very dearly, not just in terms of the finish in Lorient, but above all in terms of the overall standing. To sum up the situation, this leg is going to be all about striking the right balance!
Positions at 1330 UTC on 11/06/2012
1. Telefonica– 1,583.2 miles from the finish
2. Groupama 4 – 1.1 miles astern of the leader
3. Puma – 3.1 miles astern of the leader
4. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 8.6 miles astern of the leader
5. Camper– 12.5 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya – 26.4 miles astern of the leader
Groupama Sailing Team website
by Franck Cammas
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4:42 PM Mon 11 Jun 2012GMT
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2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race
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