In Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race, Franck Cammas and his men managed to contain the Spanish attack all the way to the finish line in Miami, which they crossed this Thursday at 0030 UTC. This low-key result for Groupama 4 is still a job well done though, as the French boat has managed to hold onto second place in the overall standing and is now just eleven points shy of Telefonica.
Groupama Sailing Team at the end of Leg 6 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
It's probably the most stressful leg Franck Cammas and his crew have experienced to date! Indeed, from the start in Itajai some 17 days 07 hours 29 minutes ago, Groupama 4 got left behind due to the breeze kicking in from the front of the fleet, favouring the leaders, who subsequently amassed a lead of as much as 157 miles offshore of Brazil... However, the French never gave up and gradually managed to catch up with and then overtake Abu Dhabi before the Antilles, before attempting a courageous option, which bore fruit when the Spanish had to gybe to reposition themselves offshore of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Though the American and New Zealanders proved to be impregnable leaders, Groupama 4's position was again threatened when the Spanish passed to the East of Cat Island whilst Franck Cammas and his men were trapped in a zone of calms to the West. The separation between the two boats compressed to less than two miles before the breeze finally deigned to kick back in over the Bahamas. With a lead of just ten miles as they rounded Eleuthera Island, 130 miles from the finish, the duel was still wide open as the crews had yet to negotiate the Gulf Stream current and a wind which was shifting round to the South-West as it eased. Telefonica tried to pull one last move by moving across to windward, but Groupama 4 still managed to make the finish in Miami with a 37-minute lead!
'We're obviously frustrated because we weren't able to battle it out for the top spot for three weeks, which was hard to bear. Fortunately, the final week proved to be more positive, when we overtook Abu Dhabi and then Telefonica: ultimately we did a really good job in terms of the overall standing. We ended this sixth leg on a positive note, but we got off to such a bad start that we wondered what we were doing here for ten days or so! However, we managed to stay calm and focused on getting the boat to make headway as we waited for a possible opportunity to come our way. We didn't do well over the first days of racing: we didn't have a good feeling with the boat and we certainly didn't have the trimming sussed. We managed to get back into the fight thanks to a few good decisions, which fired our motivation again. We've finished ahead of the Spanish, who always sail very well, even though it was a very close run thing right up to the finish! On a physical level it was the easiest leg we've had, despite the heat, but it was also the most stressful since the start of the race in Alicante... The overall standing has bunched together as four boats are still in with a chance of outright victory in Galway: everything is still open and the battle will continue!' commented Franck Cammas at the finish in Miami.
'Mentally it's been the toughest leg since the start of the Volvo Ocean Race! What I really like is that I've learnt something different on every leg, and particularly at the end here, where we managed to get back into the fight thanks to two fine options by Jean-Luc Nélias and Franck Cammas. To keep ahead of a crew like Telefonica, you really have to dig deep... Even yesterday evening, we were making 1.2 knots in 1.2 knots of breeze: we were in despair! In the Gulf Stream too, we still had everything to lose as we were caught up in a very big squall, which could have turned the result on its head. It's fortunate that the race ended on a positive note like this because it will give the crew a massive boost,' explained Thomas Coville, watch leader on Groupama 4.
'There was a huge amount of seaweed around the Bahamas, which got caught around the rudders and the keel, slowing the boat. Usually you go into reverse at times like that, but conditions were excellent and as the boat wasn't going too fast, it was quicker to jump into the water and remove it by hand! It wasn't an ordeal given the temperature of the water... It wasn't easy to remain quick when you suffer the setback of being last. We're satisfied with the result, but we're disappointed to have sailed the majority of the race at the back of the fleet. Fortunately, there were some opportunities in the poorly established tradewinds,' commented Charles Caudrelier in Miami.
Standing in the sixth leg between Itajai and Miami
1-Puma (Ken Read) : 17d 01h 13' 59 (30 points)
2-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 17d 02h 21' 24 (25 points)
3-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 17d 07h 29' 03 (20 points)
4-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 17d 08h 06' 38 (15 points)
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : still racing (10 points)
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : DNS (0 points)
(Provisional) overall standing after this sixth leg
1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2+15 = 164 points
2-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6+20 = 153 points
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5+25 = 149 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4+30 = 147 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3+10 = 68 points*
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0+0 = 25 points
*Subject to making the finish in Miami
Groupama Sailing Team website