Volvo Ocean Race - Will the French lose out?

Groupama Sailing Team caught in the doldrums at night during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.
Can Volvo Ocean Race leg leader Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) cling onto the lead or will the French lose their precious gains made over the last 15 days?

The fleet is converging and the French team’s lead has been up and down like a yoyo for much of today, dropping to a frightening 53 nautical miles at 1000 UTC, before steadily climbing to a healthy 83.7 nm over Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg at 1600 this afternoon.


However, at 1900 UTC tonight the good news story continued and Groupama 4 was on fire. Her lead had climbed to 92.9 nm over Puma, and her speed was an astonishing 18.1 knots, when all but Puma had averaged less than 10 knots in the previous three hours.

Social hour on the sail stack in lighter winds. onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

The five-boat chasing pack had all made losses. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) was the worst affected, suffering a slamming loss of 34 nm.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) didn’t fare much better. Engaged in a heated battle with Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS), the Emirati team lost 29 nm, while Camper lost 26. Only eight nm separate the pair in distance to finish, but Abu Dhabi has a lateral separation of 163 nm.

Paul Willcox shows off his new haircut after a visit from King Neptune, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Camper both put in a series of tacks today to hitch east. Telefónica is now 115 nm west of Groupama, but 153 nm behind in the approach to New Caledonia.

'I wouldn’t trade places with Telefónica, even the way they’ve been going,' Puma’s pitman Ryan Godfrey commented. 'It’s a long way uphill for the guys to the west. I’d rather be where we are and taking the high and slow road.'

The breeze is weakening and there has been some thundercloud activity adding to the intensity on board the six race boats as they sail the last 1200 or so nautical miles to Auckland.

Team Telefonica on the winches, during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

The crew on change watch onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©

According to Chris Nicholson, there is a lot of uncertainty in the weather left in this leg. All boats have every device known to man in order to help them find the fastest way. 'But, at the moment,' says Nicholson, 'it’s reverting to the basic rules of sailing – go to Auckland in the fastest way possible and deal with the weather presented until we know more.'

Volvo Ocean Race website