Volvo Ocean Race – Groupama 4 pull out all the stops

Charles Caudrelier onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are currently 2,181 miles from the finish line of leg one in Cape Town, trailing the leaders by 282.90 nm at the 1600 UTC position report today.

The unexpected dismasting suffered by Puma early afternoon on Monday hasn't affected the way in which the fleet is tackling the end of this first leg: Groupama 4 is focusing on making good speed towards a front in the Roaring Forties zone so as not to get left behind and hopefully make up some of the deficit in relation to her two predecessors.

The three remaining crews in this Volvo Ocean Race saw their fervour somewhat chilled when the news came in that American Ken Read had announced the breakage of his mast in a very manageable 23 knots of beam winds. Indeed the atmosphere became further subdued as the New Zealanders indicated that their bowman, Mike Pammenter, got carried along by a wave which slammed him violently against the shroud, injuring the area around his face. In fact, the sailing conditions have become tougher as the easterly tradewinds build, even though they're still a long way from the Southern Ocean! However, the race rapidly gained the upper hand when Franck Cammas and his men observed how imperative it is that they manage to hook onto the front rolling across 40°S, because behind this weather system, the Saint Helena High will be settling back into position.

'Right now we're hurtling southwards, at an even faster pace than early this morning as the tradewinds build. We're making headway at 100° to the wind with around twenty knots of boat speed in over 22 knots of breeze and it's pretty uncomfortable... We're beginning to reach the anticyclonic curve so we're going to hoist the gennaker in place of the genoa', indicated Franck Cammas at the noon videoconference this Tuesday.

'Unfortunately these weather conditions aren't favourable for the boats at the back: the frontrunners will hook onto the low before us and it will enable them to sail with ease along the South face of the high. Due to our separation, we're at risk of getting caught up in the high pressure behind this front: there's a one in five chance that we'll be able to stay in this system like the others... It will depend on our progress over the next 24 hours and that's why we're pulling out all the stops!'

Indeed, Groupama 4 will experience a change of pace over the next 24 hours as the arrival of a front will provide a long swell and northerly winds in excess of 25 knots. As such the French boat will also accelerate considerably whilst the temperatures plummet. Frontrunners Telefonica and Camper will lose a bit of their lead as they'll enter this new weather phenomenon from this evening.

'A front will carry everyone towards Cape Town at speed, but the high pressure is reforming behind it. Either we'll manage to remain in this system and enjoy a quick finish at the edge of the high pressure, or we won't be able to make fast enough headway with this front and we'll have to drop southwards to hook onto another depression at around 42-45°S! That will be an almighty detour, but it will be good training for the strong winds we'll have in the Pacific... In the first case scenario, we could make South Africa overnight between Sunday and Monday, whereas the second case will be more like Tuesday!'

Already beyond 30° South, Groupama 4 is likely to exceed a 24-hour slot covering 450-miles as the tradewinds should continue to be in excess of twenty knots. However, the living conditions aboard are also becoming less calm beneath the leaden sky, great continuous plumes of spray across the deck and the helmsmen, with the latter having to sport helmets for protection. The fleeces are also out with the foul weather gear as the water temperature is bordering on 15°C, while the air is struggling to make 20°C.

'We haven't changed our way of sailing since we trust in our mast and we don't know the cause of these two dismastings. We'll carry out some tests in Cape Town... We're just a bit frustrated not to be playing in the same weather system as the others due to the fact that our deficit is too great. They're benefiting more from these changes of pace by being ahead, as was the case in the Doldrums. However, for now we're on the podium! Added to that, we've learnt a great deal over the past fifteen days: we'll be stronger for the following legs.'

Position at 1600 UTC on 22/11/2011
1. Telefonica - 1898.8 miles astern of the finish
2. Camper - 105.10 miles astern of the leader
3. Groupama - 282.90 miles astern of the leader
Puma - retirement
Abu Dhabi - retirement
Team Sanya – retirement

Martin Krite from Sweden trimming onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Groupama Sailing Team website