Volvo Ocean Race sailing team Groupama 4 may have taken the lead in leg one, after deciding to take the coastal path, but the situation will become complicated this coming weekend with the tradewinds having been snuffed out around the Cape Verde archipelago.
Groupama Sailing Team - Volvo Ocean race 2011-12
After the return of Abu Dhabi to the racetrack, the fleet is now split into three groups, in three different weather systems...
The next 72 hours are going to be extremely important for deciding which, of the group out West made up of the Spaniards on Telefónica, the Americans on Puma and the New Zealanders on Camper, or the solitary Groupama 4 slipping beneath the Canaries, will come off best from the complicated configuration reigning over the North Atlantic. During this time, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team restarted the race from Alicante last night having had her spare mast stepped and is 850 miles astern of the French leader, offshore of Almeria, making laboured headway in the light Mediterranean airs... Three separate groups then, all in completely different weather conditions and yet they're all set to converge on the equator, which is still more than 1,700 miles ahead!
At noon this Thursday, those favouring the West were making headway in a W'ly wind of around fifteen knots, beneath a vast depression which will reach Ireland on Friday, hoping to hook onto a N'ly breeze from Friday evening so they can drop due South at speed. If all goes to plan, they should make up the lost ground this weekend as the weather situation out West will be the first to change. For their part, Franck Cammas and his men were continuing their descent down the African coast in a not very pronounced tradewind system dishing out about a dozen knots. Already beneath the Canaries archipelago, the first mission for the crew of Groupama 4 is to get as far away from the area as possible as quickly as they can, before choosing their trajectory for the weekend.
'We are still sailing downwind in some rather weak tradewinds of 12-13 knots, hugging the Moroccan coast some ten miles or so away. We're going to have to gybe early this afternoon to remain in a small band of N'ly breeze between Lanzarote and Morocco. This band will widen this evening as the wind builds. Conditions are good and Groupama 4 appears to be handling very well in this configuration. We saw the Canaries archipelago at daybreak with some very good visibility', explained Franck Cammas at the noon radio session.
Indeed the tradewinds are likely to gradually die away over the next 72hrs, spanning a massive zone stretching from the Canaries to Brazil! With NE to N'ly winds of less than ten knots, Franck Cammas only has two choices: to continue to make southing by sailing along the coast of Mauritania and then Senegal, leaving the Cape Verde archipelago to starboard, or to attempt to make gains out to the West, so as to reposition himself along the route being taken by his rivals, so he too can hook onto the steadier breeze when it kicks in...
'In relation to our option taken after Gibraltar, we reckon Camper thought twice about following us. However, they fell into a hole with no wind, which forced them offshore, and they're now set back from Telefónica and Puma. This isn't doing them any favours, but there doesn't appear to be a difference in speed with the rest of the fleet. Ours is a classic course in terms of trajectory, because hunting down the tradewinds isn't usually a risky move, unless they disappear or fade, which seems to be the case at the moment. For the time being, we've had a good crack at what we wanted to do because we're ahead of our routing, though we do have a doubt about tomorrow, Friday, and the arrival of a front which could snuff out the tradewinds. We're going to have to try to make headway to the West by finding a vein of air to slip along on!'
The next course decisions aren't necessarily linked solely to mid-term tactical issues though. Indeed the navigators are having to cast their data nets at least five days ahead to anticipate how things will pan out after Cape Verde. As such they're looking into how the Doldrums are shaping up, whether it will be active or not very pronounced, whether it will extend or retract its claws, whether it should be tackled between 20° and 25° west or, instead, a lot closer to Brazil at around 30° west... All these things will have to be taken into consideration as the crew of Groupama 4 make their decision tonight. In the meantime, the crew is racking up some rest hours in these calm conditions and doing a few little odd jobs left over from their passage through the Mediterranean...
'We didn't suffer any damage in the Mediterranean, just a few attachments coming loose down below, which we've stuck back up today. There's also been a mechanical issue with the hook to keep the second reef in place on the mainsail, which we've partly resolved. With our virtual lead this lunchtime on Thursday, the crew is in good spirits, even though we're here on our own, but we're likely to link up with the rest of the fleet at Cape Verde... We are well aware that our lead isn't a done deal!'