Volvo Ocean Race- The French Fox embraces the coastal route

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa.

Groupama, led by the current round the world non-stop record holder, Franck Cammas has broken from the rest of the fleet and is hugging the African coast in search of thermally driven winds from the Sahara Desert, in a bold bid to be first to the turning mark off Brazil.

To starboard, two of the fleet have followed the old Round the World maxim of 'West is Best' while Camper sailed by Emirates Team NZ has tried to cover both options and has paid the penalty of a middle course.

Cammas knows the area well, and is the most experienced skipper in the fleet in terms of circumnavigations, albeit in high speed multihulls. So his choice of course will be followed with great interest.

Volvo Ocean Race Day 4 - Groupama with 5kts of windspeed, on the African coast, and Telefonica enjoys 13 kts offshore

On the water, the four boats still sailing on Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race are competing to be the first to find the Atlantic’s absent trade winds, while back on land, it is a race against time for the two teams repairing damage to get back in the hunt for points.

Team Telefónica are leading on the 6,500 nautical mile first leg from Alicante to Cape Town, sailing a western course in the Atlantic ahead of PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, Groupama sailing team and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand.

The French team’s tactical gamble to split from the fleet and hug Africa’s coast on a southern course is costing them dearly, losing 16 miles on the leader and dropping from second to third as the rig flogs and sails flail in less than two knots of breeze.

Working up to his shins inside the hull a member of the support crews checks the major damage sustained to Team Sanya during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa.
Andres Soriano/Team Sanya/Volvo Ocean Race

Cammas said his team were focused on playing the weather rather than the other boats. 'It’s a very different option from the other boats – we will cover less miles but we need wind, and the next 24-hours will be crucial for the result,’’ he said. 'We think that’s the good choice and we didn’t know the other boats would not go there. On paper, this option is not that risky.

CAMPER’s late call to go west when winds lightened overnight and boat speed dropped to one knot has also taken a toll, with the initial leg leader dropping to fourth.

Navigator Will Oxley said it had been testing on the nerves, but there were still positives to draw from the challenge: 'The boat’s being sailed well by the guys and boat-on-boat we feel like we’re doing quite well, but we’re pretty pleased we put on an extra food bag right now because it’s going to be a long leg.’’

Onshore, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are ahead of schedule in the race to replace the broken mast on Azzam and start the mission to catch up with the other boats.

Water bubbles through the hull split inside the flooded bow of Team Sanya during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (
Andres Soriano/Team Sanya/Volvo Ocean Race
Speaking in Alicante, skipper Ian Walker said the team were expecting the arrival of two replacement parts from Valencia today, which would complete the assembly of the new mast.

Walker said he was hopeful that his crew would mount the new mast and rig in Azzam tonight, with the team hitting the water and returning to racing tomorrow.

'To be honest, I want to get back in the race in the next 24 hours if I can because the fleet aren’t getting away that fast and it wouldn’t be impossible to catch them up,’’ he said.

'All being well we might get the mast in tonight and then off tomorrow morning.

'This is our last mast so the last thing we want to do is anything unseaman-like, go out to sea and then find we have the same problem again or another problem then that would put us out of the race, so the stakes are high.'

The two-day weather lull could boost Abu Dhabi's catch up bid as the Emirati team are expected to pick up propulsion from a low pressure system once they make it through Gibraltar Strait - - if they leave tomorrow.

Having ruled out a return to Leg 1 yesterday Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya are now turning their sights on repairing the major structural damage to their hull in time for the Cape Town In-Port Race and the start of Leg 2.

'The piece of boat that we are going to chop out and replace is five metres long by three and a half metres wide by a metre high. That’s the same size as a reasonable sized powerboat that you could chuck a 100 horsepower outboard on and go out for a day’s fishing.'

Sanderson admitted it was a major challenge logistically to ship Sanya to Cape Town, with its earliest arrival expected to be November 28. He said it was also a practical challenge, with the team having to complete one month’s work in just one week.

'None of the timings add up right now, but the moons are starting to align for us a little bit. We have to get the job done properly. This is the Volvo Ocean Race and it simply isn’t an option to head out without the boat being 100 per cent.'

Leg 1 Report: 08/11/2011 13:02:36 UTC
1 TELE 0.00 0.0 12.2 5923.7
2 PUMA 3.20 1.0 12.2 5926.9
3 GPMA 19.40 16.0 2.3 5943.1
4 CMPR 24.10 2.0 14.8 5947.8
- ADOR Suspended Racing
- SNYA Retired from Leg 1