Volvo Ocean Race update from Groupama 4

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa.
The crew aboard Groupama 4 are currently sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012. We are now brought up to date on the team’s progress.

Around thirty miles from the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, Groupama 4 has taken a different option to her three rivals by dipping down towards the coast of Morocco, whilst the other VOR-70s are picking their way along the Costa Brava... In fourth position, Franck Cammas and his men believe they will benefit from a more favourable air flow in the Strait.

Saturday night proved to be very tough for all the crews competing in this first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race bound for Cape Town.

Indeed the very strong wind (more than 40 knots at times) and short, violent seas in the Alboran Sea put paid to Abu Dhabi's mast at 1915 GMT on Saturday, and then Sanya's hull on Sunday at 0830 GMT... Ian Walker and his crew have already motored back to Alicante and are having to pick up a new mast for Abu Dhabi at which point they intend to set off again, in approximately three to four days' time. As for Mike Sanderson and his men, the punctured, partly delaminated hull on Sanya will call for major repairs and the Chinese team is waiting till they make the port of Motril before deciding how they will proceed with the race.

It has to be said that the Mediterranean has been serving up some very tough conditions for the VOR-70s, with over thirty knots of westerly wind on the nose and above all increasingly big seas where the waves are in excess of five metres! Taking even greater care after the news of these two serious cases of damage, which the UAE and Chinese teams are likely to promptly resolve and quickly get back on the racetrack, the crews are focusing primarily on safety and preserving gear. They are currently contending with a gale which is set to ease progressively as they approach the Strait of Gibraltar.

Though the four prototypes still racing were on virtually the same trajectory after rounding the Gata headland, the same cannot be said as the fleet tracked along the Costa del Sol: the Spaniards on Telefonica and the Americans on Puma opted to reposition themselves in the bay of Malaga, where they hoped they would have smaller waves once the wind began to ease, whilst the New Zealanders on Camper and the French on Groupama 4 preferred to traverse the Alboran Sea so they could approach the Strait of Gibraltar via the South.

Early this afternoon, Chris Nicholson then decided to put in another tack to line up with the entrance to the strait, whilst Franck Cammas opted for a course taking his team towards Morocco... Midway through the afternoon it was Camper which appeared to have taken the best option, four miles ahead of Telefonica.

The breeze had eased off considerably but was still coming from the West, channelled by the Strait of Gibraltar. As a result, it's shaping up to be a tricky passage as the wind will drop still further to less than ten knots, almost fading to nothing as the fleet arrive in the Atlantic Ocean...

It's at the exit to this Hispano-Moroccan gulley that the first major strategic decision will have to be made: in a very light northerly breeze, sticking to the direct route towards the Canaries will run the risk of getting ensnared in zones of calm, whilst reaching westwards isn't that simple either, with a front currently taking its time to reach Spain!

As such, Sunday night is promising to be calmer on the water and the crew of Groupama 4 will be able to get their strength back after the Mediterranean shaker. Getting sleep and eating well be key for continuing to react intelligently and quickly. Indeed, the crew will really need to be on the ball tonight so they can extract themselves from this first trap...

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