Volvo Ocean Race Leg 4 leader heads for New Zealand coast

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race leaders of the fourth leg of racing, Groupama Sailing Team, gave the fleet a masterclass in strong wind big wave sailing overnight as they slogged towards the New Zealand coast in truly hideous weather conditions.

Despite constant slamming from mountainous waves up to eight metres and screaming headwinds over 30 knots the French team averaged speeds around 13 knots as they consolidated their advantage over the chasing pack to over 140 nautical miles this morning.

Speaking from the boat today watch leader Damian Foxall said the exhausted Groupama crew remained cautious but resolute after navigator Jean-Luc Néilias reminded the team there could still be obstacles ahead of them before they reach the finish line in Auckland tomorrow.

Foxall said the last 12 hours had been tough with lots of sail changes and tacking as Franck Cammas’ crew carefully clicked off the final hard miles of leg four.

Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said Groupama’s position looked increasingly strong as the French boat could escape the worst effects of a transition between two weather systems which should see the winds shift to the north after midnight UTC tonight.

'The whole fleet has been slowed down by the effects of the big waves and as the high pressure system moves east tonight there will be a transition zone around the northern tip of New Zealand as the winds turn north,' he said.

'Groupama could miss most of this and stay in the breeze but the chasing pack will have to deal with lighter winds in the transition zone and big waves left over from the stronger winds.'

Behind Groupama the battle for second and third has been getting increasing intense with Team Telefónica and Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg trading tacks in a cat and mouse out to the east.

Sensing an opportunity to steal a podium place in the final miles Camper with Emirates team New Zealand have pushed further west perhaps hoping for flatter water in the lee of the land.

'We have positioned ourselves nicely to leeward (of Puma and Telefónica),' Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said this morning.

'Now it’s a matter of keeping punching forward and then we will see what we can do.'

'They are positioning themselves well to attack,' Infante said. 'If they find a right hand wind shift closer to the coast they could close down Telefónica and Puma

'Then when the transition zone comes into play, who knows what could happen around the tip of New Zealand. There is a lot still to play for between these three boats.'

Groupama Sailing Team about to tack, during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

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