Volvo Ocean Race – Groupama face big decision

Brad Marsh and Damien Foxall onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race leading team Groupama 4 and skipper Franck Cammas/FRA have to make a big decision. They have two choices: move west quickly and take a big loss to do it, or hold their nerve and sail towards the triangle of doom, the no-go windless area that begins south of the Cape Verde Islands 600 nautical miles ahead, and then make the turn west.

Either way, the African Triangle, to give it its correct name, must be avoided at all costs. It is the windless area at the eastern end of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), better known as the Doldrums, and Groupama 4 is heading straight for it.

The ITCZ is a band of low pressure where the northeast trade winds of the northern hemisphere meet the southeast trade winds of the southern. Here the typical weather consists of squalls and thunderstorms interspersed by flat calms, where boats can be left wallowing for days. To avoid this, the fleet must cross the ITCZ at its western and narrowest point, before being set free into the southeast trades.

As the fleet converges, it will begin to compress as the first boat sails into the wall and the chasing pack is still benefiting from good breeze. The further to the west the fleet makes its Doldrums crossing, the less effect they usually have, allowing the yachts usually slip from one trade wind system to the other reasonably easily. However, this leg has not played out as expected.

At 1000 UTC today, Groupama 4 had a lead of 242 nm, but is 573 nm to the east of the fleet, 92 nautical miles nm off the coast, while the boats in the west lost out again.

Telefónica (Iker Martinez/ESP) lost 15 nm, Puma’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) 14 nm and Camper (Chris Nicholson/AUS) 35 nm. All three have to endure the pain of watching Groupama 4 from a distance, clocking up a massive lead, but, at the same time, facing a decision which could open the door for those who decided west was best early on.

Kelvin Harrap moving saiis to the high-side during another tack in shifty conditions. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race) - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

'Are we there yet?' 'Are we tacking south yet?' The waiting game is interminable. The heading still reads 240 degrees and the crews feel as if they have been heading west, with Cape Town 90 degrees to their left, ever since they left Alicante. 'We just can’t seem to get there from here,' writes the crew from Puma’s Mar Mostro who continue their private battle with Telefónica nine nm ahead.

If only it were as simple as turning the bow south, but unfortunately it isn’t. The weather has proved far more complicated than predicted and the drag race west looks set to continue for at least another 24 hours.

Overnight, when the long awaited tack came onboard Chris Nicholson’s Camper, the pleasure was short lived. Camper picked up her skirts and flew for a brief moment or two, before sailing into a hole, so not quite the ‘escalator to redemption,’ as the crew put it. Back to heading west with a lot of miles to claw back and still a minefield of bizarre breeze to negotiate.

However, the anticipation remains and wind speeds should improve to 20 – 25 knots today. The all-important gybe south, when it comes, say the crew of Camper, 'will be like turning off a slow country road and onto an empty motorway – with no police to slow us down.'

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing retired from leg one this morning after deciding their best option going forward in the race would be to ship the boat to Cape Town from Lisbon. The team said that the decision would give them more time to fine-tune the rig in time for the second in-port race on December 10 in Cape Town.

Positions on 11/11/2011 at 10:02:53 UTC
  DTLDTLCBSDTF
1GPMA0.000.014.25247.7
2TELE241.3015.08.55489.0
3PUMA250.8014.08.65498.5
4CMPR328.6035.05.75576.3
-ADORRetired from Leg 1
-SNYARetired from Leg 1

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