Volvo Ocean Race Leg 9 - Groupama prepare for tough night

Groupama at the start of Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 Leg 9
The start of Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 ninth leg took place at 1103 UTC this Sunday 1st July in a fine, westerly breeze and glorious sunshine. Leg 9 is very important for Franck Cammas and his men since they are in with a chance of outright victory if they score well. It is also crucial for their pursuers, who will be vying for supremacy in the hunt for the remaining podium place with little currently separating them. The arrival in Galway is scheduled before sunrise on Tuesday.

Franck Cammas and his men got off to a prudent start to avoid any contact or penalties over the preliminary 10-mile coastal course, before really going into battle mode offshore of the island of Groix. This introduction consisted of two laps favouring a tack with sheets eased, which saw the Spanish excel after an great start to leeward of the fleet. Three quarters of an hour later, Telefonica powered off under Code 0 bound for Belle-Île (an island to be left to starboard), followed by Puma, whilst Camper managed to get past Abu Dhabi on the second lap. Keen not to take any risks, Groupama 4 brought up the rear astern of Sanya, without really losing contact with the head of the fleet.

'We're expecting a tough night ahead: we'll have to be careful after what's unlikely to be a gentle introduction… Indeed the leg is short so we'll have to give our all over the next 36 hours with an easier finish where we'll just have to focus on avoiding the zones of calm, which isn't evident in Ireland. It's a sprint, a large format ‘In-Port'! As such we've retained the same configuration as yesterday with Charles Caudrelier in the role of navigator, in place of Jean-Luc Nélias, who worked really hard on the routing prior to the start. The race isn't over: we have to wait till Galway…' indicated Franck Cammas on the pontoons of Lorient.

Groupama at the start of Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 Leg 9

Indeed, with the Coureaux de Groix devoured at an average speed of fifteen knots, the hierarchy had already changed behind the Iberian leader: their American pursuer was gradually being overtaken to windward by the New Zealanders, whilst Groupama 4 was hot on Camper's heels on this close reach in around fifteen knots of breeze. Very much at ease in these conditions, Franck Cammas was closing fast on what is a very familiar stretch of water for them. With a tour of the island of Belle-Île compulsory, the French crew had the advantage of playing on home waters as they negotiated the current from the rising tide and the effects of the Quiberon peninsula.

These favourable conditions are set to last virtually all the way to Ireland, though the skies are likely to be laden with rain as a warm front rolls in tonight. However, the course is swarming with pitfalls along the 550-mile sprint from Lorient to Galway and it will be necessary to circumnavigate Belle-Île downwind of its cliffs, which will make the passage off Locmaria (South-East tip) fairly technical. Following on from that, in a breeze which is due to gradually shift round to the South-West, the six VO-70s will find themselves sailing with sheets eased as they tick off the Glénan Islands, Penmarch' and then Audierne Bay. At that point, the navigators will be free to take the Raz de Sein option or the outside track encompassing Occidentale, as will be the case at Ushant, where some teams could benefit from current from the rising tide early on Monday in the Chenal du Four. The only imperative in this situation will be to avoid the prohibited zone to the North-West of the Breton island, in the shape of a parallelogram, which the coastguard is using to control shipping.

'Being the navigator is added pressure for me above all else! I was supposed to take up this role as a replacement for Jean-Luc if he was injured: I'm not settled into it very well as yet, but ultimately it's Franck who decides in any case… We're going to have windy conditions the whole time, which is good, except maybe at the end. Conditions are favourable for Groupama 4 (wind on the beam) and the pace is going to be quick! The concern is that there will be a lot of variations in wind strength and hence a number of sail changes: we mustn't use the wrong configuration. We can't afford to suffer damage either, as that would be a catastrophic scenario. The finish won't be easy: the effect of land will play a big role and, having sailed there often, experience tells me that light airs are common, which could mean we'll bunch together again over the final miles…' explained Charles Caudrelier.

Indeed after a spell of reaching from sunset this Sunday, with a south-westerly breeze as far as the outskirts of Fastnet Rock, (South-West Ireland), the breeze is set to ease a little as it shifts round to the South, which is indicative of a fine spinnaker battle over the last fifty miles… For Groupama 4, a podium finish in this final offshore leg would be sufficient to ensure victory in the overall standing in Galway!

Groupama at the start of Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 Leg 9

Groupama Sailing Team website