Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama head for Leg 4 finish

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 continue to hold a convincing lead with second placed Camper 110.6 miles astern of the leg four leader at the 1300 UTC report.

Groupama was the first to pass Cape Reinga, which marks the northern tip of New Zealand, early this Friday afternoon. Franck Cammas and his men have just 180 miles to go to make the finish in Auckland. Over a hundred miles behind the French boat, there is a fierce battle for a place on the podium!

There's not a lot of opportunity left for the Volvo Ocean Race fleet to pip Groupama 4 to the post in the Hauraki Gulf. Franck Cammas and his men put in a final tack to get past the most northerly point of New Zealand at around 0930 UTC this Friday, in what was still a steady breeze of over 25 knots on quite hard seas. The easterly wind will gradually clock round to the South-East for the descent towards Auckland and the team will have to link together a series of tack changes near the coast of New Zealand. One last slog for the crew then, who have built up nineteen days of fatigue in rather aggressive seas!

Fortunately the wind will gradually ease, switching down to less than twenty knots after North Cape, though it will be on the nose. At daybreak in the Antipodes, the breeze will only manage to reach around fifteen knots, on what will be increasingly manageable seas. The closer Groupama 4 gets to the finish line, the more the wind will have a tendency to ease, shrinking away to just a dozen knots as it shifts round to the East. As such it looks like a quick sprint to the finish in beam winds in the Hauraki Bay, very likely before sunset local time on Saturday! Perfect conditions for the locals and all the French team's supporters, who will go out to welcome in Franck Cammas and his men...

'It's very wet because we're close-hauled offshore of New Zealand. The wind has picked up due to Cape Reinga and the seas are pretty messy as the current is running against the breeze. We've had squalls of over thirty knots... We're trying to control the boat so as she doesn't suffer because we only have a seven-day break in Auckland and a very long leg (via Cape Horn) to follow. We have to go fast whilst remaining both reasonable and patient up to the finish line. This is especially true given that our navigator, Jean-Luc Nélias, has told us that there's going to be some compression of the fleet along the coast of New Zealand', commented Damian Foxall last night.

Even if nothing jams Groupama 4's progress over these last few miles (the weather forecasts remain rather favourable for the French boat), the lead of over a hundred miles that they're currently boasting, is set to shrink back a little. Indeed the chasing trio will benefit from this meteorological pacification to lengthen their stride. However, the main concern for the threesome now is to try to cover their closest rivals. The Americans managed to get the edge over the Spanish during a judicious counter tack. Puma is putting in a serious amount of effort to cover Telefonica, less than two miles to leeward. They're involved in an almighty battle of tack changes, the spoils of which will result in a podium place.

In addition to this, both crews are having to keep an eye on the locals of the leg, who struck off on their own this Friday morning (European time) by slipping beneath them. In this way Camper has moved up into second place as she approaches Cape Reinga and the New Zealanders are more than motivated to finish in one of the top spots in the 'Sailing Mecca'! The New Zealanders, like Groupama 4 before them, will have to put in a tack to get around the headland. Their Botin design is particularly fearsome upwind, which is forecast to be the most prominent point of sail until Poor Knights, an islet midway between Cape Reinga and the finish, as well as being the final course mark to be left to starboard. As such the three musketeers will be involved in a merciless crossing of swords and tacks for the last 200 miles...

Standings at 1300 UTC
1. Groupama 4 some 225.6 miles from the finish
2. Camper 110.6 miles astern of the leader
3. Puma 131.7 miles astern of the leader
4. Telefonica 133.6 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi 179.9 miles astern of the leader
6. Sanya 198.1 miles astern of the leader

Groupama Sailing Team website
http://www.sail-world.com/94718