Volvo Ocean Race - Tough, tiring Leg 6 for Groupama

Finally some wind - Groupama Sailing Team on Day 4 of Leg 6 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Volvo Ocean Race team Groupama are on the fourth day of racing in leg six, from Itajad, Brazil to Miami. The wind hasn't been very cooperative for Groupama 4 over the past 48 hours and their deficit in relation to pole position has further increased. However, the zone of light, fluky winds appears to be evaporating to give way to a fairly inconsistent easterly tradewind. Unfortunately the long climb offshore of the Brazilian coast isn't going to create a lot of opportunities to catch up with the American leader.

'It really is a very tough, tiring race, and even though the atmosphere aboard Groupama 4 is very good, our position isn't doing much to make life aboard any easier. In our minds, we're not very happy and the three-hourly standing is making things even trickier. We're putting in a great deal of effort but it's failing to pay off as the rest of the fleet are the first to power up again once the wind kicks back in. The breeze has been very random for the past 48 hours and we cannot fail to notice the sizeable differences in terms of speed, even though the boats' potentials are very similar. That means that we don't have the same wind, as Puma showed last night as she pulled back with the other crews, probably as a result of a cloud…' said Charles Caudrelier at today's radio session.

Since Thursday morning (local time), the storm front which created a zone of calms and fickle winds has crumbled away and the horizon appears to be clearing ahead of Groupama 4 this Thursday afternoon. However, the return of a north-easterly breeze of around ten knots only seems to indicate the beginnings of the tradewind, which isn't yet well-established. Uncertainty reigns in the minds of Franck Cammas and his men because for now, it's the frontrunners which are reaping the rewards of their more northern position.

'There is still a long way to go as there are nearly 4,000 miles left to cover, but we mustn't let the others get away from us over the coming hours. In principle, the tradewinds are due to settle into position for everyone at the same time, but the weather models have been inaccurate over the past two days! Once they begin to kick in, that will transform things into a drag race and you really need to be well positioned at the moment. That's why we've tried to shift as far offshore as possible. However, there are plenty of surprises all the time… Until we're clear of Recife, anything could happen.'

The fact that Groupama 4 isn't managing to make as fast headway as her rivals, is creating some doubts in their minds: a problem relating to wind or a speed issue? The only way to answer this question is to hit some steadier, more similar breeze to the other boats.

The stakes are high over the coming hours: though the leaders are beginning to escape in the tradewinds, they're only going to increase their lead over the French boat until she too hooks onto this stable easterly breeze…

'We've had a speed deficit during the start of this course, which means that we've fallen behind. There have been some periods where performances were very different between the boats, which indicates that the wind wasn't identical everywhere, even within the space of just a few dozen miles. We had an issue as regards Telefonica: we've checked that we didn't have anything stuck around the appendages and I even went into the water to take a look. We still don't understand what the problem was since it was on a point of sail where Groupama 4 is usually fairly at ease… We caught side of the Spanish again yesterday and they took off with a cloud and got ten miles ahead of us! Right now, those at the front of the pack are tending to make good their escape, but we can't really explain our deficit. The tradewinds are set to kick in and build soon, which will give us the advantage. However, we won't make up 50 miles just like that! At the moment a north-easterly breeze of around ten knots appears to be settling into position, but there's nothing to prevent a return of the northerly breeze… It's very muddled.'

Only one person on deck? Groupama Sailing Team on Day 4 of Leg 6 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

This lack of air calls for a strong presence on deck and at times the manœuvres link together in very quick succession, Yann Riou indicated that the crew had tacked three times in a row in just quarter of an hour so as to escape the calm conditions. It will be necessary to be patient for another half a day to be sure that the route through the tradewinds is definitively clear…

'Franck and Jean-Luc are spending a great deal of time on deck to track the wind: the instructions are frequently changing as the breeze sometimes shifts 30°. Franck isn't used to this type of situation and it's irritating him a bit… We weren't expecting the inshore option to bear fruit either, because Thomas (Coville) is very familiar with this area having spent many hours here during his solo round the world record attempt. We need to get out of this zone quickly and hook onto the tradewinds as fast as possible.'

Standings on 26 April at 1300 UTC
1 – Puma 3,876.9 from the finish
2 – Camper 7.7 miles from the leader
3 – Abu Dhabi 30.4 miles from the leader
4 – Telefonica 31.9 miles from the leader
5 – Groupama 69.9 miles from the leader

Charles Caudrelier and Jean-Luc Nélias, Groupama Sailing Team on Day 4 of Leg 6 - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

Groupama Sailing Team website