Volvo Ocean Race - As they press onwards toward the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, Groupama 4's skipper, Franck Cammas/FRA said 'I've got my fingers crossed for this third passage through the Doldrums: all you need is one bad squall to lose a huge amount of ground as the experience of our previous two equators has shown.'
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing keeping up the pace during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.
At 1900 UTC tonight, Groupama’s lead had extended again by two nautical miles (nm) as the fleet compressed under starry skies that belied the ominous clouds on the horizon that can sap the wind or change it 20 degrees in either direction.
Playing the squalls properly is a vital factor, but exhausting for the crews as they watch the radar and try to dodge and weave their way through, quickly altering sail configuration and trim accordingly.
'There is a lot to gain by playing them [the clouds] right, and a lot to lose by playing them the wrong way,' said Chris Nicholson, skipper of fifth-placed Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand.
In the path of the fleet lies the string of Solomon Islands, a point on the course that could throw up some opportunities further back in the fleet. To avoid the islands and any wind shadow they may throw, Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), Camper and Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) will have to sail higher and slower as they track out of the west. Or, they could pass between them.
Nicholson and his navigator Will Oxley have spent much time debating the best way to tackle the problem. It would be possible for Camper to go west of the islands, but it would be a radical option.
'We’re behind in the game at the moment, but it is just too much of a gamble. We are going to stay with the fleet and hope that we can deal with the thunderstorms and light patches as well as or better than everyone else,' Nicholson said.
Nevertheless, it will be difficult for Telefónica, Camper and Sanya to close down the lateral separation of over 200 nautical miles (nm) to Groupama.
At 1600 UTC today, there had been some changes to the leader board as Telefónica traded places with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) for third and by 1900 UTC, Walker was 14 nm behind. Puma’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) and had reduced their deficit slightly, taking Groupama’s lead down to 66.70 nm.
The leaderboard positions remained unchanged three hours later at 1900 UTC, as all but Telefónica, who had plenty of speed, had made losses on Groupama.
'It’s difficult, particularly with Groupama 4 in the position they are in, so far to the east. They make everything much more difficult for the fleet,' said Spanish skipper Iker Martínez. 'We talk about winning, but the chances are very small if we are realistic. Unless something big happens, then the advantage of the two boats [Groupama and Puma] is very big'.
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