Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama battle to defend final podium position

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are on the sixteenth day of racing in leg six, from Itajad, Brazil to Miami. With a vast zone of light airs over the Bahamas, progress towards Miami has considerably reduced and the whole fleet are suffering the effects of this latest spell of calms, which is likely to last until sunset.

Groupama 4 has managed to further reduce her deficit in relation to the two leaders, however Franck Cammas and his men are also having to keep an eye on the Spanish, who remain in ambush. The finish in Florida isn't scheduled before Wednesday evening...

There have certainly been some holes in this round! At least nine since the start in Brazil it would seem... And there are likely to be some more to deal with before Miami. And for now, nobody's scored an eagle, even though the Americans are well set up to take a birdie. It has to be said that the playing field has involved a fair amount of rough conditions, to the extent that Groupama 4 has been trapped in several bunkers since Itajai. However, thanks to a fine swing in the Bahamas archipelago, Franck Cammas and his men could still finish off on a par, whilst the Spanish have fallen into the drop zone above the Turks and Caicos. Now on the fairway with Puma and Camper within putting distance, the French boat is still well placed for a chip before the Gulf Stream.

With a wind fading to less than four knots, it's becoming hard to envisage a very constructive strategy and the main aim of the crews is to make headway above all else, even if their heading strays several dozen degrees from the direct route. Making headway is primarily about standing up to the onslaught of your rivals on a sea which is as smooth as a golf green, so that you are well positioned for when the breeze kicks back. If all goes to plan, the wind is set to put in an appearance again tonight. In the meantime, the helmsman is keeping an eye on the wind and speed indicators, the trimmers are fine-tuning the sheets and the navigator is observing the slightest ripple on the water with his binoculars. On this Tuesday afternoon, the Americans are still leading the way in a very light breeze along Cat Island, the penultimate landmass before they enter Providence Channel...

Holding onto their second place, the New Zealanders are trying to undertake them to the South with a 14-mile deficit. It's a position that could prove delicate as Groupama 4 is just twenty miles shy of Camper and is managing to slip along a knot faster. Most importantly, Franck Cammas and his crew still have an opportunity to sneak below Cat Island where the pressure is a little steadier... A final sliced swing before exiting the wind hole perhaps?

However, it will certainly be necessary to await nightfall and its beaming moon before the wind finally deigns to blow more steadily, with around ten knots of south-easterly breeze on the cards. And this fresh breeze is set to kick in via the West, so it will be good to be as close as possible to the coral islands in order to be the first to power up again. However, the dilemma is as clear as the waters in a lagoon: on the one hand, a strategic option could enable a winning comeback on the New Zealanders; on the other, its tactically preferable to secure third place by covering the Spanish, who are just sixteen miles astern!

Indeed, once they're around the lighthouse to the North of Eleuthera (120 miles ahead of Groupama 4), the final looks even quirkier than in recent days: a southerly wind of around a dozen knots won't allow for any options as the navigators have to take in the coral reefs of the Biminis before they commit to the final home straight to Miami. At that point, there is still the oceanic current of the Gulf Stream to contend with, but as there will be just fifty miles or so of racetrack left, we shouldn't expect any major upsets, unless the crews are really close to each other. A moderate breeze will sweep across the fleet at this stage and if things pan out as they should, there aren't likely to be any last minute surprises. As such, it's the passage to the North of the Bahamas, which will very likely determine the final hierarchy of this extensive sixth leg. It's up to Franck Cammas and his 'caddies' to position their tee for the last pitch to the final flag!

Standings on 8 May at 1500 UTC
1 - Puma 261.3 from the finish
2 - Camper 14.6 miles from the leader
3 - Groupama 46.2 miles from the leader
4 - Telefonica 63.7 miles from the leader
5 - Abu Dhabi 122.8 miles from the leader

Groupama Sailing Team website