Volvo Ocean Race struggle continues for crew of Groupama 4

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
The Volvo Ocean Race fleet have been racing for a week now on Leg 2 and have experienced a drastic change of tempo with a Chinese leader setting out on its own to the North, a French option to the far East and a central pack. The formation of a tropical depression has altered the deal somewhat…

Between Sanya and Groupama 4, the lateral separation has now stretched to nearly 600 miles! In the space of a day, the hierarchy has been turned completely on its head and the situation will continue to intensify in the coming hours since the Chinese boat is about to carry out a hold-up with its strategic initiative. Indeed, by splitting away from the others on an option due North towards Madagascar, Mike Sanderson has taken the head of the fleet and is set to increase his lead dramatically...

The oldest VO-70 of the fleet should have increased its lead by six times in the next 24 hours. As such we can well imagine a delta of over 200 miles compared with Groupama 4, which will also be out on her own as the central group has no other choice than to reposition itself towards the North too.

The difficulty for the crew of Sanya will be to pass through a tropical depression orbiting beneath the large African island: what will be its exact trajectory? This Sunday afternoon, it is deepening and becoming active with a vast mass of clouds and winds which will be in excess of forty knots on Monday morning. Will the Chinese boat be keen to endure the strongest of the gale to the East, or will it have had the time to traverse the zone so it is in the centre of a barometric minimum where the breeze is more manageable?

In any case, the crew will really get shaken about over the coming hours. However, if the boat reaches the latitude of the South-East tip of Madagascar before noon, its option will have been a complete success. Indeed Sanya will then be able to head offshore, towards Réunion Island, so as to reposition itself in front of the whole fleet with a considerable lead... Before that though, it will have to suffer the anger of this violent system which will really take the Chinese boat by the horns.

The situation is very different for Groupama 4, which was the first out of the front but must now claw back some ground to the North so as not to get stuck in the high pressure which is settling ahead of her bow. As soon as the breeze, which has been gradually easing since Sunday morning, shifts round to the North-East, Franck Cammas and his men will put in a tack towards Réunion Island, where the focus will be on trying to pass in front of the central group, which also escaped the front this Sunday morning.

The gains then should be sizeable because as the French boat covers ground to the North, the wind will turn favourably round to the East as it builds. In three days' time then, it will be better to sail at 60° East so as to distance oneself from the remainder of the light airs left in the wake of the tropical depression between Madagascar and Mauritius.

Indeed everyone is set to converge on the same point to pass the Tropic of Capricorn, so as to remain in a steady easterly air flow until it enters the furtive zone defined by the organisation of the Volvo Ocean Race. However, the fleet will be approximately lined up for the long compulsory stretch towards the equatorial Doldrums. With the same steady wind conditions and moderate beam seas, the six VO-70s will be going at virtually the same speed. As such the separation which will be built up in the coming hours will determine the hierarchy, perhaps right the way to the finish line!

As a result, the standings for this second leg may be defined at the end of this weekend, at least for the podium. If Sanya passes through the tropical storm without hassle, it will have considerable room for manoeuvre (at least 200 miles). If Groupama 4 puts in a tack before nightfall, she too will have a lead of about a hundred miles over the central group, a delta which should increase at the start of the week since she'll be first to benefit from an easterly wind rotation and its increase in strength. This strange second leg will have been completely turned on its head in a little over a day!

Position of the competitors on the second leg at 1600 UTC on 18/12/2011

1. Team Sanya
2. Camper - 154,9 miles astern of the leader
3. Puma - 160,1 miles astern of the leader
4. Telefonica - 162 miles astern of the leader
5. Groupama 4 - 174,3 miles astern of the leader
6. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - 209,7 miles astern of the leader.

Groupama website
Volvo Ocean Race website