Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 fleet are on day three of leg eight from Lisbon to Lorient. The final home straight to Brittany will be extremely quick, to the extent that the first boats are set to finish by midday on Friday or early afternoon! Groupama 4, which rounded Sao Miguel just astern of the Spanish, is in a favourable position for this high tension final and the result in Lorient could well determine the winner of the Volvo Ocean Race… Answer on Friday.
Onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Ultimately the Azores High didn't prove to be a pitfall and didn't really enable any major tactical options: the centre of the high pressure shifted to the South of Santa Maria and the whole fleet fell into line behind each other to round the island of Sao Miguel. Even the breeze played ball since the boats rarely slowed to below ten knots. The westerly wind kicked in midway through the night and it was shortly before daybreak that the three Juan Kouyoumdjian designs passed Sete Cidades, to the West of the Azorean island.
Once again the three designs by the Argentinean architect were a cut above the rest during the long beam reach between Lisbon and Santa Maria. And even though Camper was able to make up part of her deficit during the light airs beat through the Azores, the three virtual sisterships were in a different league as soon as they could sail with sheets eased. Telefonica, Groupama 4 and Puma were sailing within sight of each other as they rounded the island, with the New Zealanders some five miles behind. However, as soon as the three leaders latched onto the westerly breeze, which gradually picked up to twelve knots, then fifteen, twenty and now twenty-five, they extended away and the Kiwis are nearly ten miles shy of them this Wednesday afternoon.
As the breeze is set to build over the coming hours, it would seem that there will be a three-way battle for supremacy in this boisterous final sprint! The problem for the skippers now is to know how hard to push it: the sea is building the deeper the boats get into the Atlantic depression, whose centre is situated some 700 miles to the West of Lorient. However, this disturbance is slowly shifting across towards Ireland, which it should reach in 48 hours time. As such the crews are in a zone of westerly wind, with breezes which will exceed thirty knots as they shift round to the South-West over the next 24 hours, once the fleet enter the Bay of Biscay.
This Wednesday afternoon, there were just 1,000 miles left to go before the leaders make Lorient and this section is going to be one of the fastest on this circumnavigation of the globe! Basically, the initial stretch will involve a reach, which will become increasingly boisterous and technical at the helm, as the seas will build on the aft quarter: benefiting from the waves to slip along requires a great deal of concentration. Since exiting the Azorean archipelago, Franck Cammas and his men have purposely chosen to let themselves be carried a little more to leeward so as to later reposition themselves to windward once the breeze lifts so as they'll be in an attacking position once they have to make the approach on Cape Finisterre. Indeed the fact that the wind will shift round to the South-West will give the race a tactical slant because by ending up with the wind aft the crews will very likely have to perform one or several gybes.
As such there is nothing in it with less than two days to go till the finish in Lorient, added to which the three leaders in the overall standing are also the top three on tonight's leaderboard! Solely eight points separate Groupama 4 from Telefonica, which herself is just five points ahead of Puma, which makes this eighth leg very important: the first into Brittany will collect thirty points, the second 25 points, the third 20 points… As a result there may be an almighty reshuffle as regards the respective placings of these three boats. We mustn't forget of course that Camper and Abu Dhabi have their assets in the strong breeze forecast: they showed great potential in the South Pacific before breaking… Indeed that is the limiting factor: to avoid any technical hitches, the teams will have to try not to go into the red. As a result, the skippers' responsibility is massive at this stage of the race: so the question is how do you react when one of your rivals is staking it all over the final few miles?
Positions at 1300 UTC on 13/06/2012
1. Telefonica – 1,004.1 miles from the finish
2. Groupama 4 – 1.6 miles astern of the leader
3. Puma – 2.9 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper – 9.6 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 20.3 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya – 38.8 miles astern of the leader
Groupama Sailing Team website