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Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama exits Miami for Leg 7 start

by Vincent Borde on 21 May 2012
Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Franck Cammas from France, power through the waves Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race
In the Volvo Ocean Race, with a stormy situation over Florida, Leg 7 between Miami and Lisbon kicked off amid a very light and fickle breeze. Franck Cammas and his men managed to extract themselves from this meteorological magma astern of Abu Dhabi after a preliminary course of nearly two hours! And even though there are a lot of miles to cover before the crews reach Lisbon, it's very important to be up with the leaders so as to be among the first to hook onto the expected southerly winds due to influence proceedings from Monday evening...

With the wind barely reaching five knots as the starting gun sounded, Groupama 4 managed to thread her way along to windward of the fleet, whilst the Emirati boat got off to the best start in the centre of the start line. Under Code 0, the VO-70s were struggling to make headway despite the flat seas, as the breeze was extremely difficult to track. The main aim was to sail in clean air, away from the other competitors: as such there weren't any very elaborate tactics in play...

However, it was still necessary to reach the Gulf Stream after rounding mark 2 and Ian Walker managed to stretch out his lead the minute he entered the oceanic current, which was moving along at over two knots! Franck Cammas and his men were the second team to benefit from this northbound current as they tacked to mark 3 in second position, three minutes shy of the Emirati boat, but above all two minutes ahead of the Spanish and the New Zealanders.

The breeze dropped even more as the crews launched into the second lap of this preliminary coastal section! With less than three knots of breeze at times, the hierarchy was apt to change at any moment. Groupama 4 nevertheless managed to catch up with Abu Dhabi whilst also maintaining her separation in relation to the New Zealanders and the Spanish. Once again it was necessary to wait until they reached the Gulf Stream current, around two miles off the coast of Florida, but this rather unremarkable sailing demonstration was fast becoming a snail race!

Indeed it took nearly two hours for the boats to reach the stage where they could head offshore and accelerate a bit in what was a still light north-easterly breeze, but the Gulf Stream pepped things up a little at the start of this laborious section... However, the fact remains that heading out in pole position is a key advantage as the wind will gradually fill in from the North, which will favour the leaders of this leg.

The most important thing about this short leg involves hooking onto the depression, which is set to form offshore of Carolina from Monday, because behind its speedy northerly trajectory, will be a southerly wind. From Wednesday the system will already be at the banks of Newfoundland before it shifts across to Europe fairly quickly. Remaining within this disturbed system is a guarantee of a downwind breeze for two-thirds of the 3,590-mile course (6,649 km) to Lisbon.

The final section between the Azores and Portugal isn't very clear as yet because the zone of high pressure, compressed by this Atlantic disturbance, is very likely to form a barrier of calms in front of Europe! As such, it won't just be crucial to go fast for nearly a week, it will also be good to line yourself up to tackle the high pressure, which could cause the fleet to bunch up again less than 500 miles from the finish. Franck Cammas and his navigator, Jean-Luc Nélias, are very familiar with this type of weather configuration, but onlookers can expect some suspense in this seventh leg, which is very important for the final standing.

Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 4, before leaving the pontoon: 'The forecast gives predominantly light airs for the first few hours of racing. The average wind is scheduled to be light until Monday morning and then we'll be in contact with a tropical depression. I hope we'll be able to pass to the South of it and accelerate with it. As such there may be some big deficits as those who are first to hook onto the depression will power up with the downwind conditions. There are four boats which are in with a chance of winning the Volvo Ocean Race to date: as such there aren't many calculations involved here since the name of the game is to be the first into Lisbon... This leg is shorter than the previous ones, as we should take around a dozen days to cross the Atlantic: we need to be on the pace from the get-go.'

Damian Foxall, watch leader on Groupama 4: 'Historically it's one of the hardest legs there is. It's not very long, but you often have very strong downwind conditions. The North Atlantic is a very rough ocean with the currents from the Gulf Stream and the Labrador, the banks of Newfoundland and the continental shelf... We're heading home, but we mustn't ease off the pressure! The crew of Groupama 4 is very familiar with this zone, but the start in Miami promises to be difficult, with storms and light airs prior to a tropical storm... According to the trajectory of this disturbed system, we could take between ten and twelve days. And given the overall standing, it's virtually a re-start! It's a crucial leg.'

(Provisional) Overall standing after the Miami In-Port:

1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2+15+1 = 165 points
2-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6+20+5 = 158 points
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5+25+3 = 152 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4+30+4 = 151 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3+10+6 = 74 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0+0+2 = 27 points

Crew list on Groupama 4 for the 7th leg from Miami - Lisbon: 3,590 miles (ETA 30 / 31 May):

Franck Cammas (FRA) - skipper
Jean-Luc Nélias (FRA) - navigator
Thomas Coville (FRA) - watch leader
Damian Foxall (IRL) - watch leader
Erwan Israël (FRA) - trimmer / helmsman
Phil Harmer (FRA) - trimmer / helmsman
Martin Strömberg (SWE) - trimmer / helmsman
Charles Caudrelier (FRA) - trimmer / helmsman
Brad Marsh (NZL) - Bowman
Martin Krite (SWE) - Bowman
Yann Riou (FRA) - Media Man

Volvo Ocean Race website

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