Volvo Ocean Race Leg 1 – Groupama delayed with penalty

Alicante Start - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 started today, 5th November, at 1400 hrs local time in a good fifteen knots or so of westerly breeze, increasing to over twenty-five at the end of the fifteen mile coastal course.

Groupama 4, delayed on the very first tack by having to perform a penalty, managed to get back into the thick of the action to position herself in fifth place, just astern of Abu Dhabi. On this afternoon's menu: fifty miles of reaching as far as the Palos headland...

Today's kick-off was synonymous with the first Volvo Ocean Race start for Franck Cammas and his men in this nine leg circumnavigation of the globe. Nearly 40,000 miles will be covered via the Atlantic, the Indian, the China Sea and the Pacific. It is a marathon at the pace of a sprint. It's a whole new beginning for the French, as they have been absent from this round the world race since Éric Tabarly's participation in 1993... From the outset, Camper very quickly powered up to windward of the fleet under Code 0 alongside Telefonica, whilst Groupama 4 opted for a position downwind of the fleet near the committee boat. The fleet homed in on the first mark at nearly twenty knots, furling in their massive headsails as they prepared to make the rounding.

The New Zealanders (Camper), under staysail and full mainsail, were first to tack, following by the Spaniards (Telefonica) and the Americans (Puma), who opted for the No.2 genoa. Franck Cammas was in hot pursuit with Sanya, whilst the Americans had a few issues with dumping their Code 0... The offshore breeze proved to be very fluky with some big gusts dropping down off the mountainsides. Beneath the cliffs this breeze teamed up with some light airs and some short, albeit surprising gusts, which weren't easy to negotiate. At this point Groupama 4 had to perform a double turn (720°) following a protest from the Americans for a minor collision between the two boats, where Groupama 4's bowsprit touched Puma's stern without causing damage.

At the heart of the action
At the following mark, Camper asserted its position as leader, as the crew furled in their large Code 0 after the gybe, Telefonica and Puma hot on their heels. Despite being delayed by her two-turn penalty, Groupama 4 was just astern of Abu Dhabi and Sanya, the former having problems furling in their Code 0 and the wind continuing to yo-yo both in terms of strength and direction! The New Zealanders were still leading the fleet and were first to gybe in a wind picking up to over fifteen knots. At that point, the fleet passed off the port of Alicante for the first time with varying degrees of success in terms of manoeuvring... Franck Cammas and his men made the most of the opportunity to make the mark rounding ahead of the Chinese yacht and was closing on the leaders as the breeze increased still further to reach 20-25 knots!

The final beat, followed by a long stretch of reaching towards the final course mark, was already proving very boisterous. After just one hour, Chris Nicholson (Camper) was able to head offshore towards the Palos headland, beam onto a 25 knot westerly wind. Ken Read (Puma) was 1'34 minutes shy of the leader, followed by Iker Martinez (Télefonica), Ian Walker (Abu Dhabi) and Franck Cammas (Groupama 4) as the fleet rounded the final course mark.

Emotions and tensions
On the pontoons as the six boats cast off from port to make for the start line amidst a deluge of decibels, a firework display and a religious blessing, beneath the gaze of Prince Felipe de Bourbon and French footballer Zinedine Zidane, the emotion was palpable among all the crew members as they finally left terra firma on their first major Volvo adventure.

Families, loved ones, supports, Groupama's management team and staff, all exchanged their final farewells, embraced and looked on with pride as Groupama 4 set sail on this eleventh edition of the crewed round the world race. In some ways the crew were relieved to finally be about to take the race start and the beginning of a new planetary adventure. They could not disguise their sentiments, nor a slight apprehension prior to this first round of racing and the rather aggressive forecast for the first night at sea... However, the pressure should drop as they pass Gibraltar on Sunday afternoon and begin to focus on their strategy for tackling the Atlantic.

Franck Cammas prior to the start:
'You're always a bit nervous prior to a start such as this, where the dangers lie in the other competitors' boats and the spectator craft, as the start zone is so restricted: it's the trickiest section and you have to put in a lot of manoeuvres. Following that there will be some strong headwinds as far as Gibraltar, which is never easy or comfortable! Roll on the Atlantic where we'll fall into the more familiar configuration of offshore sailing... I'm proud to have made it this far and to be ready in Alicante. We have done what we set out to do over the past two years, with a whole series of different phases according to the schedule, resulting in a yacht, Groupama 4, which is at her best. It promises to be a top level battle which is on a whole different scale to what we've been used to in multihull racing.'

The crew of Groupama 4 for the first leg from Alicante-Cape Town (6,500 miles)
Franck Cammas, FRA - Skipper
Jean Luc Nélias, FRA - Navigator
Thomas Coville, FRA - Helmsman, trimmer
Charles Caudrelier, FRA - Helmsman, trimmer
Erwan Israël, FRA - Helmsman, trimmer
Damian Foxall, IRL - Helmsman, trimmer
Martin Strömberg, SWE - Helmsman, trimmer
Martin Krite, SWE - Bowman
Brad Marsh, NZL- Bowman
Phil Harmer, AUS - Pitman, trimmer
Yann Riou, FRA - Media Crew

Positions at the final course mark:
2-Puma 1'34 astern
3-Telefonica 2'10 astern
4-Abu Dhabi 2'47 astern
5-Groupama 4 3'50 astern
6-Sanya 7'32 astern

Groupama website
Volvo Ocean Race website