Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama crew prepare for drag race

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 7 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 team Groupama 4 are still on a beat in the area surrounding Newfoundland's Grand Bankson on the sixth day of racing in leg seven. Groupama has got back in contact with the head of the fleet during the numerous tack changes over the past 24 hours. They have half a day to go before they latch onto the north-westerly wind associated with a depression coming off Labrador, which will propel Franck Cammas and his men beyond the Azores.

The temperature has dropped considerably over the past day and over the Grand Banks it is now just a dozen degrees. The sea has also become more bouncy with the Gulf Stream, which is running against a moderate north-easterly breeze, whilst the cold Labrador Current is providing dense cloud cover. As such conditions are a far cry from the weather in the tropics! Furthermore, there's a lot of work on deck as Groupama 4 is linking together a series of tacks, roughly every couple of hours, so as to remain in a favourable vein of breeze with assistance from the Gulf Stream. Indeed, this weaving about has borne fruit for Franck Cammas and his crew, since the French crew is just thirty miles or so shy of the Emirati leader now, and most significantly, they have got past the Spanish, who headed off further East on Friday.

Not everybody shared the same viewpoint for tackling this climb up to the North, slinking around the edge of a zone of high pressure positioned over the banks of Newfoundland. The New Zealanders, who managed to take control of the fleet after a judicious shift across to the East, stayed on that same tack for too long in an attempt to control the Spanish. This resulted in them being overtaken by those favouring a westerly option, an attack led by the Emiratis, who have sailed a very inspired race in this seventh leg, and the Americans, who are still very incisive. The option by Franck Cammas and his men to follow the bulk of the fleet, once it was established that the front had escaped them a couple of days ago, has ultimately enabled them to limit the damage and Telefonica has now lost her advantage in this beat.

There were still ten or so tacks to be performed to climb up towards the depression, which is expected to come into play early tonight, and there is still a gain to be made before the new north-westerly wind begins to influence the trajectories for the next three days. The crew which manages to position themselves the furthest North as they escape the high pressure, will be the first to power up. As such, the gameplan right now involves distancing oneself from the zone of high pressure (via the East), whilst climbing up towards the Grand Banks.

With the exception of the Chinese boat, which is now too far behind to worry the leading pack, the fleet will launch into a long glide towards the Azores from Sunday, which will kick-off with some spinnaker sailing in a north-westerly breeze (15-20 knots), followed by an important gybe once the breeze backs round to the West, and ending with a very fast reaching wind to the North of the archipelago once the wind shifts round to the South-West. Given that the deficits are likely to have shrunk to just thirty miles or so for the Franco-Spanish duo when the depression rolls in, the crews are preparing for a drag race for Pentecost. And in such conditions, Groupama 4 has already shown her prowess...

Positions at 1300 UTC on 26/05/2012:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - 1,868.2 miles from the finish
2. Puma - 19.6 miles astern of the leader
3. Camper - 26.0 miles astern of the leader
4. Groupama 4 - 37.8 miles astern of the leader
5. Telefonica - 39.8 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya - 83.7 miles astern of the leader

Groupama Sailing Team website