Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama crew roll with the punches

The crew on watch get a constant pounding of spray from the Southern Ocean, onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 continue to lead on the tenth day of racing in leg five, from Auckland to Itajai, at the 1300 UTC report today.

By Friday, Groupama 4 should be done with the Pacific Ocean as Franck Cammas and his men have less than 800 miles to go to round Cape Horn. The sailing conditions have become considerably easier over the past few hours, enabling the French boat to make headway more confidently at an average of nearly twenty knots.

The austral depression which has been pushing Groupama 4 across the Pacific for the past week, has finally calmed down as it approaches South America. Though the breeze is remaining pretty consistent at nearly thirty knots, the seas have become a lot smoother and better organised. Under one reef mainsail, staysail and heavy gennaker, Franck Cammas and his crew are making the most of these conditions to get some respite after six full-on days on the back of the storm. As such they can finally slip along without risk! Furthermore, the forecast for rounding Cape Horn is pretty favourable and from Friday afternoon, the snow-capped summits of the Andes cordillera will come into view!

Groupama 4 had to wait till she reached the latitude of 58°30 South before she could launch into her first important manœuvre in the past week: a gybe. It proved to be a rather more laborious exercise than usual, as the crew have really had to roll with the punches in the backwash of a week of stress, strong wind and heavy seas, as well as the proximity of Antarctica, which has done nothing to warm up the atmosphere. Another forty hours or so then and Franck Cammas and his men will be able to feel the sense of deliverance at leaving the pressure of the Pacific in their wake…

This gybe is the result of a rotation in the still steady WNW'ly wind (between 30 and 40 knots), enabling Groupama 4 to bend her trajectory round towards Drake's Passage. A fresh depression is rolling in from the North-West, which will push the French boat towards the Atlantic at speed. If everything pans out as it should, Franck Cammas and his crew won't have to put in another gybe, but if they do it will simply be to reposition themselves level with the islands of South America. This disturbance comes with more good news as the north-westerly wind will also be favourable for making headway along the Argentinean coast, at least through the weekend. This will enable the sailors to very quickly climb up to some less extreme, less windy, less dangerous and above all less chilly latitudes…

With the succession of damage which has decimated the fleet in the austral storm, solely the Americans are standing up to the French leader: Puma is adopting roughly the same course, just thirty miles further South. The delta between the two VO-70s is remaining very constant at around fifty miles, whilst their lead is bordering on 400 miles in relation to the Spanish, who have announced that they're making a pit stop in Ushuaia. Telefonica is going to have to work fast as Abu Dhabi are really coming back strong at the rear of the fleet, thanks to a 30-knot south-westerly wind, which is set to clock round to the West and then the North-West between now and the weekend. Just a day and a half behind the Iberians, the Emirati boat is likely to overtake the Hispanic boat at Cape Horn!

Meantime Sanya has made it back to New Zealand, which was an opportunity for Mike Sanderson to announce his retirement from this fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. The Chinese boat will be loaded onto a cargo ship in Tauranga, from where she'll be transported to Savannah with the aim of rejoining the race for the Miami In-Port. Finally, the New Zealanders on Camper are still making their way towards Chile at a moderate pace so as not to aggravate the situation with the structure of the bow. The Kiwis still have 1,700 miles to go before they reach Puerto Montt, where they're planning on effecting repairs in two or three days, before continuing with the remaining 2,500 miles to Itajai, via Cape Horn… If the French and American boats maintain the same position as far as Brazil, this long leg will really shake up the hierarchy in the overall standing!

Standings on 28 March 2012 at 1300 UTC
1. Groupama 2,682.3 miles from the finish
2. Puma 50.2 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica 370.7 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper 1,106.6 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 1,393.7 miles astern of the leader
6. Sanya retired from the leg.

Big waves and nose diving 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)

Bowman Brad Marsh is on standby, 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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