Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama focus on retaining lead over Telefónica

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 6 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama 4 are on the seventeenth day of racing in leg six, from Itajad, Brazil to Miami. Having passed to the North of the island of Eleuthera at 1000 UTC this Wednesday, Groupama 4 is now directly in the wake of the Americans and New Zealanders on her way to Florida. In a stable southerly breeze of around fifteen knots, there are barely any options to be had now. Franck Cammas and his men must now focus on controlling their ten-mile lead over the Spanish on Telefonica. The finish in Miami is scheduled for around 0300 UTC.

'We're going to sail in a long straight line, as there are no options for the next five hours, until we exit the channel from the Bahamas: if things go according to plan, the wind should fill in and we'll have to switch headsail. We should slowly pick up speed to about 15-16 knots, without too much stress. Last night was stressful, especially at sunset and I didn't think we'd still be third this morning: we fell into a zone of calm and the Spanish were making very fast headway for three hours on the other side of Cat Island. Fortunately we picked up a wind on the coast which was heading this morning, and we were able to reposition ourselves in front of them before the Bahamas channel,' explained Franck Cammas during the lunchtime videoconference this Wednesday.

Last night was tough for the crew of Groupama 4, who saw Telefonica peel away to the other side of Cat Island at the last minute: it was impossible to control the Spanish at that point and as the wind faded to the West, the Iberian boat put Franck Cammas and his men under some serious pressure. Then the breeze kicked back in from the South-East, forcing Iker Martinez and his crew to gybe so as to reposition themselves towards the Bahamas.

'The decision to pass to the West of Cat Island wasn't easy as we knew that Telefonica still had an opportunity to take the other option. And once we were committed, they made the most of it to split away 90° from our trajectory with a thermal breeze of eight knots, which enabled them to make headway a lot quicker than us. They played their hand very well and really gave us a scare! Right now, we have to control the Spanish, who we can see on the horizon as they're just eight miles behind. We'll really have to thoroughly anticipate the Gulf Stream too, which reaches 2-3 knots off Miami, especially as the wind is set to ease before the finish. To have Puma and Camper ahead of us will enable us to see how the current behaves as it heads northwards.'

'The points will be all important at the finish in Miami and our comeback offshore of the Bahamas was good news: Telefonica got too far away from the direct route and that gave us an opportunity to overtake them. It wasn't easy, because in order to overtake a boat, there have to be some options up for grabs and you have to make the right choice, as once you're committed it's not possible to reverse... There will be some bunching in the overall standing: that's good for the race and the suspense in the last three legs! We'd limit the damage by making it in ahead of Telefonica...'

However, there are still over a 100 miles to go before they reach the finish line, about 50 of which will take them as far as Great Isaac Light (which marks the edge of a zone of coral reefs to the North of the Biminis), during which time pure speed alone can change the tone. Groupama 4 and Telefonica are just as quick as each other on this beam reach so there's no danger there. As such, Franck Cammas and his men are focusing on retaining their lead of around ten miles over the Spanish for the final sprint, where they'll probably have to put in a series of tacks as the wind is set to shift round to the WSW, where it will dish out just ten knots or so of breeze.

'We're likely to make it into Miami overnight American time, around 0300 UTC: it's going to be a very short stopover! However, the whole crew is in pretty good shape as there were quite a number of spells of light airs... Fortunately, we'd reckoned on 17 days of food and we have enough to finish the race. There has been a lot of seaweed and Charles (Caudrelier) has had to do a lot of dives to remove it... However, the backdrop of the Bahamas is superb with its idyllic beaches, an air temperature of 25° in the early hours and a sea temperature of 27°, some fabulous sunrises and a very beautiful moon...'

Standings on 9 May at 1400 UTC
1 - Puma 39.8 from the finish
2 - Camper 0.3 miles from the leader
3 - Groupama 94.9 miles from the leader
4 - Telefonica 106.6 miles from the leader
5 - Abu Dhabi 170.1 miles from the leader
6 - Sanya: DNS

(Provisional) overall standing after this sixth leg (if the hierarchy remains the same into Miami)
1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2+15 = 164 points
2-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6+20 = 153 points
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5+25 = 149 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4+30 = 147 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3+10 = 68 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0+0 = 25 points

Groupama Sailing Team website