Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama prepares for the Doldrums

Day 11 - Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 team Groupama 4 maintains her lead of the fleet on the eleventh day of the second stage of leg four at the 1300 UTC report.

The easterly tradewinds are gradually easing and the cloud masses are putting in an appearance again, disrupting the wind which is alternating between gusts and light patches, making the sail choices somewhat tricky given the short duration of the phenomena. The first to suffer these inconveniences, Groupama 4 has conceded a few miles to her pursuers, but the whole fleet is soon likely to be subject to the same treatment.

'For two days we were in a reaching wind which enabled us to make fast headway, but it was very wet on deck, to the extent that it was hard to see the bow! A few hours ago, we hit some squally weather with phases of lighter breeze: it's hard to know how to choose the right sail area and it looks like there are some manœuvres on the cards… We haven't yet hit the Doldrums, which is at around 3° South, just a zone where the tradewinds are lighter and the squalls are more developed. There's been a major change in the past hour since we're only making ten knots of boat speed! It's impossible to anticipate such phenomena: some of the clouds which are crossing our path contain strong squalls of over thirty knots and others less than ten knots. In any case, right now you just have to focus on going straight: we can't avoid them and there is likely to be some concertinaing of the boats according to the cloud mass.'

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race) - Leg 4 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

There's no need to hurry since Groupama 4 has a 75-mile lead over her direct American rival and 90 miles over the Spanish, who've managed to reduce the East-West lateral separation to 200 miles. At 4° North, Franck Cammas and his men should cross the equator on Friday morning (European time). In contrast to the Atlantic, where it is situated between 8° and 3°N, the Pacific Doldrums is more centred around 3°-7°S, which is just before the passage through the Melanesian Islands. For the time being, all the navigators appear to be aiming to carve out a passage between the archipelago of Solomon, with the Vanuatu islands, further to leeward of the fleet (Telefonica, Camper, Sanya), being borderline possible without luffing up big time. As such the positioning of Groupama 4 is more favourable, since she has some room for manœuvre to get round San Cristobal.

'I think that the whole fleet is converging on the same point, which would suggest a route sailing closer to the wind for Telefonica to get to the East of the island of San Cristobal (East of the Solomon archipelago): we should all traverse the Doldrums in the same zone. Our positioning to windward of the fleet is giving us a bit more freedom in our choices, which means passing between the Vanuatu Islands or to the East of this archipelago: we can bear away or luff up, changing our heading according to wind we get. For now, we're waiting to see what happens as the route after the Doldrums is still sketchy according to the grib files: we've have to wait till tomorrow, Friday, to find out more'.

Though there aren't any major strategic choices to be had over the coming hours, due to the wind still being on the beam (easterly), there may be some ‘trajectory bending' which will indicate which key passage point the navigators are aiming to adopt between the islands. The more manageable conditions the crews are currently experiencing are enabling them to breathe a little after two particularly full-on days. It's also an opportunity for repairs on Abu Dhabi and Camper, who appear to be more handicapped by their technical issues (daggerboard-rudder, jib J2). Although this break in the weather is welcome, the fact remains that it's important to stay on your guard in this disturbed system, which may lead to a general bunching up of the fleet before they tackle the various archipelagos…

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race) - Leg 4 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

'The living conditions are considerably more comfortable now as the past two days have been brutal, though we're beginning to suffer from the intense heat of the equator. There have been a few little injuries, but nothing serious. These are violent points of sail and we're through the worst of them now. Furthermore Groupama 4 has no technical issues to report and we'll do a complete check of the boat tomorrow morning. We'll soon switch hemispheres for the third time and I hope things will go better than on previous occasions! In any case, the night will be shorter and it'll be summer in the southern hemisphere'.

Position at 1300 UTC on 01/03/2012
1. Groupama 4 some 2,645.2 miles from the finish
2. Puma – 76.1 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica - 90.3 miles astern of the leader
4. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - 99.9 miles astern of the leader
5. Camper - 115.6 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya - 165.6 miles astern of the leader

Groupama Sailing Team website