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Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama make spectacular comeback

by Franck Cammas on 30 Jan 2012
Day 8 - The Swedes of Groupama 4 - Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team /Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are 0.6 mile astern of the leader on day eight of the second stage of leg three at the 1700 UTC report.

In less than 24 hours, the hierarchy has radically changed as the fleet surged into the narrowing Straits of Malacca. Three options were open to the crews and the most spectacular comebacks were made by Groupama 4, now in the top three, and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, which has caught up with Camper again! However, the situation might well change again in the Melaka gulley.

In the two days since the fleet slipped into the narrow passageway separating Malaysia and Sumatra, the wind has vanished into thin air and its random behaviour is playing on everyone's nerves! It switches from less than five knots to around fifteen without any indication whatsoever and the breeze is even more complicated to apprehend once the sun and moon meet… In this stagnation of wind, you need a certain amount of confidence, a zest of anticipation and a pinch of luck. Indeed, putting together a plan of campaign when the wind fields draw up furrows which are as incalculable as the ultimate value of Pi, is a tremendous feat: the only solution is to constantly adapt to what is essentially a random fluctuation, so as to extract from it a trajectory with contours as broken as on an abstract painting… You only have to observe the wakes of the six VO-70s over recent hours to understand that the ‘strategic truth' is amazingly obscure! In this corridor which narrows from 200 miles to less than 20, the six crews are more scattered now than they were during the five days, which marked their progress from the Maldives to Indonesia…

Early this Sunday afternoon (European time), night had just fallen offshore of Kuala Lumpur and there is likely to be a great deal of jockeying for position in a breeze which, according to the grib files, is set to be inexistent… Just twenty miles separate the city of Malacca (Malaysia) and the island of Rupat (Sumatra), and the tidal range measures over a metre, which causes hefty currents in this narrow passage. Indeed, it may well be that everything's decided in this Melaka channel for this third leg: if one of the five crews manages to make good their escape over these next fifty or so fateful miles (Sanya having dropped too far back already), it's very likely that they'll have an open road to China. In fact, once this zone is devoured, the coastal landforms will no longer disturb the monsoon air flow and the long upwind climb won't have as many surprises to offer as this nerve centre in the gulley…

24 hours ago, the Spanish had snatched control of the fleet thanks to a slight northerly separation, whilst Groupama 4 had made up ground on Camper. However, it was off George Town that everything took on a different tone. Indeed, late on Saturday night (local time), whilst Telefonica was amassing a lead of around thirty miles, Franck Cammas and his men got ahead of the Americans to reposition themselves at the centre of the strait when the New Zealanders opted for a route along the Malaysian coast, tailed by Abu Dhabi. Hoping to benefit from the thermal effects there, the latter two crews instead got stuck off the paddy fields of Bagan Datoh for nearly six hours, while Puma and Groupama 4 homed in on the leader at an average speed of over twelve knots. As night fell, the three boats formed a united triumvirate off the capital of Malaysia, with a lead of over thirty miles on the Camper-Abu Dhabi duo! Meantime, the Chinese boat opted for a route which was the exact opposite of that, sailing along the coast of Sumatra with a deficit of over 130 miles…

Midway through the Indonesian night (1400 UTC), the Spanish had a lead of just one mile over Groupama 4, which was two miles ahead of Puma. However, the speeds had dropped considerably to around five knots, whilst some twenty miles astern, Abu Dhabi had the edge on Camper, both of which had stalled a great deal too. In the pitch black, the moon only offering the crews a tiny crescent of light, it's likely to be a very lively night aboard Groupama 4. The reasons for this aren't simply related to the task of keeping watch for shipping, fishermen, floating objects and things caught around the appendages (plastic, nets, tree trunks etc.), but also keeping an eye out for their two rivals breathing down their necks and the clouds with their improbable behaviour. With this light and very fluky breeze, there will be a steady series of manœuvres too of course. This is especially true given that the squalls and local effects will be hard to make out. The main aim for Franck Cammas and his men is, above all, not to fall off the pace on entering the South China Sea in 36 hours' time… For now, the French boat has performed that particular number to perfection!

Position at 1700 UTC on 29/01/2012
1. Telefonica 1,255.5 miles to the finish
2. Groupama 4 – 0.6 mile astern of the leader
3. Puma – 2.8 miles astern of the leader
4. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 27.9 miles astern of the leader
5. Camper – 28.2 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya – 102.1 miles astern of the Groupama Sailing Team website

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