Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama 4 opts for easterly course

Onboard Groupama Sailing Team during day 2 of leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama are on the second day of racing in Leg 6, from Itajad, Brazil to Miami. The zones of calm extending offshore of Rio de Janeiro are upsetting the forecasts.

The group of five have split into two groups: offshore are the Americans, the Spanish and the French; inshore are the New Zealanders and the Emiratis. This light, fluky breeze is very likely to hang around due to a storm front off Cape Frio. Groupama 4 has opted for an easterly course to try to extract herself as quickly as possible from this meteorological stalemate.

After a fast start in a good south-westerly wind offshore of Itajai, which enabled Groupama 4 and her rivals to power along at an average speed of over 18 knots, the wind dropped away sharply level with the longitude of Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, it was offshore of the large Brazilian city that the fleet dispersed, with Camper and Abu Dhabi opting to pick their way towards Cape Frio, whilst Telefonica and Groupama 4 were heading eastwards. As for Puma, she was on an intermediate course as the sun set over Brazil.

'Things are fairly quiet this Tuesday lunchtime (European time): we've been dawdling along for some 24 hours now, even though the southerly downwind conditions have picked up since daybreak. I hope that it will remain like this for at least a day so as we can make a little hop up towards the North-East… After setting out from Itajai, we got back level with Telefonica as we were a tad faster. When the wind dropped, the Spanish proved to be faster than us: we lost sight of them this morning and they're now eight miles ahead. We've opted for a trajectory taking us away from Cape Frio, around a hundred miles off the coast, as we reckon it's a risky zone. There's a fair amount of instability on shore, but it's hard to judge how many miles away you need to be. For now it's clearly Puma which has come off the best with its intermediate course,' indicated Franck Cammas during the lunchtime videoconference this Tuesday.

In fact, the zone of calms offshore of Cape Frio was scheduled to form a little later on and, most importantly it wasn't originally supposed to extend so far offshore. However, as with any stormy situation, it's very difficult to anticipate how such a meteorological magma is going to evolve. With less than five knots of breeze, the fleet's progress hasn't been very quick, but the differences of heading have gradually dispatched the crews, each of them sticking to their guns once a decision has been made.

'The tradewinds aren't set to come into play within the next 48 hours and that's when we'll really be able to weigh up the merits of the different options! However, we know that the boat positioned the furthest East will be favoured, because it will have a better angle to the wind. In the meantime, there's a great deal of instability to deal with and our aim is to gradually distance ourselves from the Brazilian coast. Indeed, we're set to hit another zone of light airs on Wednesday, and there's even a strong chance of being forced onto a beat, which will enable us to head even further offshore. We haven't done with the transitions yet and we'll have to wait for the second uncertain zone before we can really draw any conclusions about how we're fairing in relation to our rivals.'

Indeed, over the course of last night, the fan of boats opened even wider as the leading New Zealanders and Emiratis were just twenty miles off Cape Frio, whilst Puma was some 75 miles offshore of it and Telefonica and Groupama 4 were nearly a hundred miles off the coast. On the programme this Tuesday is a fairly laborious day for Franck Cammas and his men because although the southerly breeze is kicking in again, off the Brazilian region of Espirito Santo, a barrier of storms is stretching out diagonally towards South Africa, and on the other side of this obstacle some North to north-westerly winds are being served up! This cloud mass will very slowly disintegrate, though this process will be faster further to the East so Groupama 4, accompanied by the Americans and the Spanish, are seeking to make good their escape offshore.

'Groupama 4 has never been the most at ease in this type of weather, with less than eight knots of breeze. I reckon we haven't been very quick over the past 24 hours but that may also be down to our separation in terms of longitude… If everything pans out as it should, we are likely to be accompanied by a wind of around ten knots as we climb up to the North-East and are set for some large gennaker sailing. It will be important to really make good use of the storm masses and perform the manoeuvres well, of which there will be plenty as we approach the front. Our situation to the East is pretty comfortable, even though we're behind those who opted for a more direct route. However, we're right where we wanted to be!'

In this rather still Brazilian air, it's not easy to claw back the miles when the average speeds oscillate between 3 and 7 knots! It's likely that the routes will converge tonight as the two leading boats making headway inshore know that the way out is shifting offshore. It remains to be seen if the storm front which is positioned 250 miles further North will be very active and above all if it will really be narrower 150 miles offshore of the Brazilian coast. For now the separation between the boats remains ‘reasonable', but the uncertainty of the squalls certainly isn't making what's on the horizon any clearer for the navigators…

Standings on 24 April at 1300 UTC
1 – Camper 4328.7 from the finish
2 – Abu Dhabi 4.20 miles from the leader
3 - Puma 27.5 miles from the leader
4 – Telefonica 47 miles from the leader
5 – Groupama 51 miles from the leader

onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race) - Leg 6, Day 2, Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race) - Leg 6, Day 2, Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

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