Volvo Ocean Race: The battle tightens as North Cape beckons

Team Telefonica prepare for a sail change, during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.

While the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race looks to be Groupama’s to lose, the battle for the other two podium places has tightened over the past 24 hours.

A trough of low pressure in the Tasman Sea may work in favour of both Camper and Puma as they try to make landfall at North Cape.

Using the course routing function of www.predictwind.com!Predictwind which projects up to four weather feeds can be analysed, as opposed to the two feeds to which the Volvo Ocean race navigators are allowed to access.

In the immediate period the fleet is expected to face fresh to strong SE breezes on the final approach to North Cape. Groupama is expected to be sailing in winds in excess of 20knots for the next 24 hours and has the option to stand out into the Tasman Sea, before taking a tack to make landfall at North Cape around 5.30am on Saturday morning NZT.

The winds should begin to ease slightly as she approaches the northern end of New Zealand, and reduce to single digits getting down to just four or five knots. The duration and extent of the softening breeze has the Franck Cammas skippered French entry crossing the finish line late on Saturday night

Leg leader, Groupama will approach North Cape in a fresh easter breeze

A second set of standard weather feeds paints a rather more optimistic picture of the course options and finishing time for Groupama. One course has her sailing closer to the direct route for North Cape and for her to hold a fresh easterly breeze all the way won the Northland coast, and crossing the finish line in Auckland at a speed of around 16kts at 7.45pm on Saturday evening, local time.

Using the same standard weather data, the overall race leader, Telefonica is expected to finish around 9.00am on Sunday morning, with one of the Predictwind feeds seeing a similar finish time around 11.00am – again caused by an expectation of lighter winds, and a much later finish time from a second Predictwind feed.

A better estimate will be possible as the boats make landfall and it becomes possible, and more accurate, to run Predictwind using a higher resolution coastal weather forecast data.

Camper, currently in fourth place has two markedly different course options (light and bold lines) using four different weather feeds.

Camper has assumed a position behind overall race leader, Telefonica, and she has a projected finish time of around 2.00pm on Sunday afternoon, or closer to midnight if the winds stay light for the final run down the coast to Auckland. But the second set of standard weather feeds brings a prediction that she will be able to sail close to the direct line for North Cape, tacking in the easterly breeze of 16kts at around 9.00am on Saturday morning and having a good run down the coast to finish around 11.00am on Sunday morning.

If the same set of weather data is accurate, then Puma will finish an hour or two ahead of Camper. However the margins are quite tight, and if the prognosis of a light run down the Northland coast does prove to be correct, then Camper could have a reasonable shot at third place.

The battle for fifth and sixth place also looks to be closer between Team Sanya and Abu Dhabi than the Volvo Ocean Race calculations, based on an instant snap shot of positions radiused from Auckland, they are predicted to finish Sunday afternoon, or Sunday night.