Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are currently 2,800 miles from the finish line of leg one in Cape Town, trailing the leaders by 419.90 nm at the 1600 UTC position report today.
Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Franck Cammas and his crew have had a whole new 'slant' on things since leaving the Doldrums. Indeed, heeled over, sailing beam onto easterly tradewinds of around a dozen knots. This situation isn't set to evolve within the next two days, at which point Groupama 4 will begin to flirt with the western edge of the Saint Helena High.
Canted over, on a heel, shaken, wet: the men on Groupama 4 are living at a 10° to 20° slant according to the strength of the tradewinds. Currently these tradewinds aren't very powerful, but they are set to fill in between now and the end of the day, this Sunday, with over fifteen knots of breeze likely to propel the remaining four VO-70s imminently. As a result, the French boat will finally benefit from the same conditions as her rivals and be able to rack up an average speed of over eighteen knots over the coming days. Furthermore, as she makes her SSE'ly descent, Groupama 4 will see the wind gradually clocking round to the North-East once she's level with Rio de Janeiro, which should further increase the distance covered in 24 hours, as well as the volume of spray on deck!
Though the temperature of the air and sea is dropping gently, making it less tiresome for those off-watch down below, dampness is still par for the course on deck with the chop increasing in size. Permanently heeled over, the crew must get their bearings in order to move about the boat, as well as making sure they're wedged into position to eat and sleep. These conditions make the days rather monotonous, even though the trimmers and the helmsman have to adapt to what is still a fluky breeze both in terms of strength and direction. Eleven to fifteen knots, East or North-East, the tradewinds are having some difficulty in getting established in a steady air flow, though they're considerably more stable for the two leaders.
Ultimately, all the navigators have finally decided that the best route to reach Cape Town involves going right around the Saint Helena High. Indeed this plateau of high pressure which is stretching out from Brazil to South Africa cannot be traversed via its centre (positioned very high in latitude, at 40° South) for fear of getting tangled up in its prolonged calm zones. Passing to the North of it, involves shortening the course but beating into headwinds.
The 'safe' option is calling for them to adopt the route taken by the clippers of the 19th century, namely going right around the North face of the system: it's certainly a lot longer (at least 400 miles further), but they are assured of having boisterous downwind conditions from midweek. In view of the upcoming grib files, at least one day of in excess of 500 miles is on the programme, but the leaders will be the first to reap the benefits. As such, it isn't likely that Groupama 4 will make up a lot of her deficit as she's over a day shy of the frontrunners (418 miles). In fact, it may well be that her delta will be bordering on 500 miles on Wednesday or Thursday, before she can catch up a bit when the leaders have to climb up towards South Africa in a considerably more fluky breeze. In the meantime, Franck Cammas and his men will be on the chase as they slink along the side of this high pressure plateau.
Groupama Sailing Team website