Volvo Ocean Race – Groupama 4 bound for roaring forties

Seaspray on deck during the stacking after the sail change onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are in third place, 28.5 miles astern of the leader, on the fifth leg of racing from Auckland (New Zealand) to Itajai (Brazil) at the 1300 UTC report today.

The first night of this leg to Cape Horn proved to be particularly violent with gusts of over 50 knots and waves in excess of seven metres! Franck Cammas and his men got through the worst of the tropical depression without too much trouble and Groupama 4 is now on a reach bound for the roaring forties.

The racers cannot recall having had such a trying first night at sea on the round the world race! Barely clear of the last islands that make up New Zealand and the fleet were already in the thick of it, with a tropical depression having settled into position in the North, generating an easterly breeze of over thirty knots with sudden gusts beneath the squalls. It was enough to cause a fair amount of damage, the most spectacular of which affected Abu Dhabi five hours after kick-off, just offshore of Port Jackson. The forward bulkhead, which is supposed to withstand the stresses caused by the storm jib, came away and Ian Walker quickly opted to return to Auckland to effect repairs. The Emirati yacht then rejoined the race at 0700 UTC this morning after a 30-hour pit stop and a deficit of nearly 600 miles…

Setting up the J4 onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

As for Groupama 4, the swivel which takes the tension off the storm jib (J-4) yielded in the middle of the night, forcing Franck Cammas and his men to turn back on themselves for a few miles in order to control and dump the sail… As they awaited a calm spell to effect repairs, the crew had to perform a series of manœuvres so as not to lose ground on their four luckless rivals. Fortunately, at around 1700 UTC on Sunday, the wind began to shift round to the North-East and everyone was able to change tack to dive down towards the Roaring Forties, in seas which were gradually becoming calmer.

The Spanish, who were the only ones to have repositioned themselves to the South, were then able to take control of the fleet, which was really put to the test throughout the night with gusts in excess of 50 knots… However, the transition wasn't very smooth as it took a further six hours of close-hauled sailing before the sheets could finally be eased. Gradually distancing themselves from the influence of the tropical depression, Groupama 4 was able to accelerate and move up the leaderboard from fifth to third place this Monday afternoon (European time), less than 30 miles stray of Telefonica.

For now there are no major strategic options up for grabs, the primary objective being to quickly reach the roaring forties, where the austral depressions roll along. Before committing to this corridor of wind almost all the way to Cape Horn, the VO-70s will have to traverse a zone of sluggish breeze on Tuesday lunchtime (European time). Indeed, two zones of high pressure have moved into the zone, one some 1,000 miles East of Auckland, the other to the South of New Zealand, and between the two, a ridge of high pressure is barring the way. As a result it will be necessary to traverse this meteorological trap before they can hook onto the train of weather disturbances rolling across the southern hemisphere.

As such we can expect to see a reduction in the extremely steady (and wet) pace of late, right across the fleet, with a bunching of the fleet over the next 24 hours. There could even be some upwind sailing to perform in less than ten knots of breeze… It's a sizeable challenge as the first crew to extract itself from this patch of light airs will hook onto the westerly breeze, which could propel them as far as Cape Horn! As a result Franck Cammas and his men have no respite in sight, despite the first particularly testing 36 hours. Of note is the fact that Race Management is considering moving up the virtual marks that define the Furious Fifties by one or two degrees, so as to ensure the fleet bypasses the South Pacific ice zone.

Standings on 19 March 2012 at 1300 UTC
1. Telefonica 5,996.7 miles from the finish
2. Camper 14.1 miles astern of the leader
3. Groupama 28.5 miles astern of the leader
4. Puma 31.9 miles astern of the leader
5. Sanya 54.6 miles astern of the leader
6. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 654.4 miles astern of the leader

The crew is setting up the J4 onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

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