Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama continue to lose ground

Groupama Sailing Team - Leg 6, Day 5, Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are on the fifth day of racing in leg six, from Itajad, Brazil to Miami. The situation for Groupama isn't favourable: having fallen off the pace offshore of Cape Frio, Franck Cammas and his men haven't benefited from the same weather conditions as the rest of the fleet. Due to her longitudinal separation of around a hundred miles, the easterly tradewinds currently propelling the French boat along, are also less steady in the South.

The cards have been dealt and Groupama 4 hasn't picked up a good hand! Within the space of a matter of miles, when Telefonica was still within sight on Wednesday, Franck Cammas and his crew saw the Spanish boat head off beneath a cloud and inexorably make good their escape over the horizon. Over on the shores of Brazil, Camper and Abu Dhabi have finally benefited from a more regular breeze to make up ground on the American leader. In the space of 36 hours, the separation as regards Puma has climbed from 30 miles to 100 miles…

This Friday afternoon, Groupama 4 was sailing offshore of Salvador de Bahia, 175 miles to the East of the famous All Saints Bay: the tradewinds are in position but are only generating around ten knots of breeze. This breeze is rolling in from the ENE for the French boat, whilst it has already nearly clocked right round to the East for the leading group, hence the difference in speed of nearly a knot, which is further extending the deficit in terms of longitude… However, nothing can be done about it, as the route northwards is a direct one for getting up around the Brazilian coast and there are no options in sight for a number of days.

Groupama Sailing Team - Leg 6, Day 5, Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

As a result, Franck Cammas and his men are having to ‘make do with it' and are focusing on boat speed, as this easterly breeze hasn't yet stabilised properly: clouds, light patches and wind shifts translate as constant trimming for those on deck, as well as some headsail changes ranging between the Code 0 and the G-1 genoa. As such, playing the waiting game and focusing on the next stage of the course is the current game plan aboard Groupama 4. This is especially true given that the frontrunners are set to be further favoured by the rotation of the tradewinds to the South-East, from tonight (local time), and their subsequent increase in strength as they approach Recife.

Seemingly the situation isn't a positive one for Groupama 4 then, which will continue to lose ground until at least as far as the equator, which is the equivalent of the next 600 miles and hence the end of the weekend. Indeed off Recife, the frontrunners will hit around a dozen knots of breeze, which will pick up to over 18 knots offshore of Natal (North-East tip of Brazil), where the equatorial oceanic current will push the boats along to the North-West at one to two knots quicker. As such there really aren't any opportunities on the horizon prior to the Doldrums, which are situated from 2° South to 2° North. However, aside from very thick cloud cover, which may generate squalls and calm conditions, the Doldrums isn't really developed or very active. For this reason, it will only cause the leaders to stall briefly, before they manage to hook onto the tradewinds in the northern hemisphere.

However, Franck Cammas and his men do have one thing on their side: Groupama 4 is the fastest boat of the fleet on a reach in over fifteen knots of breeze, and this card can be played once the French boat approaches the Brazilian coast offshore of Recife. However, we shouldn't delude ourselves: their deficit in relation to the frontrunner will further increase over the coming hours and isn't likely to begin to stabilise until the weekend. As far as closing this gap is concerned, we'll have to wait until early next week for the effect of the ‘reaching performance' to kick in…

Standings on 27 April at 1300 UTC
1 – Puma 3,555.5 from the finish
2 – Camper 14.7 miles from the leader
3 – Telefonica 27.8 miles from the leader
4 – Abu Dhabi 42.8 miles from the leader
5 – Groupama 104.1 miles from the leader

Groupama Sailing Team website