Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are on the sixth day of racing in leg six, from Itajad, Brazil to Miami. The easterly tradewinds offshore of Recife are playing with the economy by dishing out just ten knots of breeze, which has slightly slowed the head of the fleet. After an inflated deficit in terms of miles, Groupama 4 is enjoying a boost thanks to her easterly positioning. However, they haven't yet managed to balance out the accounts as they will first have to make up this deficit.
Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
At the Volvo exchange, four investors are reaping the rewards of exiting the stormy breeze along the Brazilian coast. Led by the Americans, the fleet is skirting the shores of Recife this Saturday lunchtime, less than twenty miles off land, whilst the French boat is still suffering from the less cooperative wind dealt out some two days ago. However, this weekend's conditions also seem to be slowing the frontrunners since there has been a downward trend in the tradewinds since last night. The first to be affected midway through the afternoon on Friday was the American boat Puma, which lost nearly ten miles in a matter of hours...
At the same time, Franck Cammas and his men, a hundred miles further South, were forced to perform a double tack change to extract themselves from a patch of light airs and gain some easting. The deficit as regards the leaders increased a little more, but the benefit over the medium term is that Groupama 4 has shifted further offshore, so as she can make good headway by being further away from the Brazilian coast. The cover of darkness didn't improve the situation for the French boat but as day broke, the value of this option bounced back up with the steadier breeze. Indeed the leaders weren't able to distance themselves from the disturbed system along the Brazilian coast or the resulting buffering effect as their shares in the tradewinds tumbled.
As such the head of the race has compressed since Puma, Camper and Telefonica are now bunched together within less than eight miles... Solely Abu Dhabi wasn't able to profit from this godsend since Groupama 4 has also managed to claw back a few miles. This general stalling at the front of the fleet is set to last until tonight (local time), because between Cabo Branco and Natal, the tradewinds appear to be gradually returning to their usual rhythm of around fifteen knots, with nearly twenty knots on the charts once they're around the North-East tip of Brazil. Thanks to their separation of around twenty miles further offshore than the trajectory adopted by the leaders, Franck Cammas and his crew can remain in a steadier vein of wind and avoid stalling off Recife.
However, this doesn't translation as a rapid comeback on the leaders in the short term: indeed their offshore investment will only have a minor effect on the compression of the deficit and it's not until they approach the Doldrums, in around two days time, that Groupama 4 will stand a chance of hooking back up with the others, though it's one almighty jump! In fact, there does appear to be an opportunity on the horizon in the form of a zone of low pressure offshore of the Amazon. The passage of the equator could be a bit complicated for the leaders as the situation becomes `normal' again just a few hours later.
As a result, Franck Cammas and his men could opt to continue threading their way due North, so as to hotfoot it out of the southern hemisphere as quickly as possible, instead of heading straight for Miami. Their current separation offshore favours this option, which has the benefit of reducing the `Doldrums' phase to as little as possible, even though in exchange, they'll be abandoning the equatorial oceanic current somewhat earlier, which will push along those favouring a direct route at nearly two knots. As such, it's on exiting this depression that the true appraisal will be able to be made because the next stage of the course isn't presenting many options. The tradewinds of the northern hemisphere are settled nicely into position and aren't set to ease significantly until the middle of next week, which will be when the fleet makes its approach on the Caribbean.
Standings on 28 April at 1300 UTC
1 - Puma 3,335.4 from the finish
2 - Camper 5.5 miles from the leader
3 - Telefonica 8.3 miles from the leader
4 -Abu Dhabi 22.2 miles from the leader
5 - Groupama 103.7 miles from the leader
Groupama Sailing Team website