French Rocket Ship Extends Lead
Franck Cammas has Groupama 4 firing on all cylinders as his team pushes the boat hard towards the Doldrum belt ahead. There is no let-up and Cammas is intent on putting as many hours as possible between his team and the chasing pack in conditions in which Groupama 4 simply excels.
Cammas reported this afternoon that his helmsmen are having a ball steering the boat, but the wind is on the beam, the sea is messy and the spray constantly crashing over the deck is giving the red-eyed crew a tough time. The boat is wet both on deck and down below.
The east south-easterly trade winds are becoming more unstable as the fleet progresses north towards the no-wind zone. It is Cammas’ plan to position Groupama 4 between the fleet and the unpredictable Doldrums, an area where a substantial lead can be very easily be swallowed up by the chasing pack.
However, there is no threat tonight from the four boats behind, which all lost miles on the French team between the 1600 and 1900 UTC position reports. Their nearest rival, PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) need to close a gap of 78.6 nautical miles (nm) and Read has a 10-mile buffer on overall race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP). CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) are a further 20 nm in deficit, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) are a shade under 230 nautical miles in arrears. None can match the 21.5-knot average speed of the French rocket ship and only PUMA are coming close, but still a knot slower.
Groupama are expected to enter the ‘stealth zone’, an area where the positions of the fleet will remain undisclosed in order to protect the crews from pirate activity, on Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, Team Sanya remain in Madagascar where they are working to repair damage suffered to their rig on Monday while in the lead. They have suspended racing from this leg.
Sanya Detours For Repairs As Fleet Closes Up
Team Sanya were forced to sacrifice their Leg 2 lead and detour west to Madagascar for emergency repairs on Monday, leaving CAMPER, Telefónica and PUMA’s Mar Mostro to fight it out for first place within two nautical miles of each other.
Mike Sanderson and his crew on board Sanya continue to sail cautiously to Madagascar where they will assess options to repair their rigging, which was damaged in the early hours of Monday.
Sanderson said it was fortunate that the team’s new helmsman/trimmer David Rolfe spotted the broken rigging cable, a D2, shortly before a planned tack.
“We were just lucky that it happened in daylight,’’ said the skipper, who described himself as “absolutely gutted” at an incident that occurred while the team were widening their lead over the fleet. “If it had happened in the dark, we wouldn’t have noticed it and we would have tacked and the mast would have fallen down instantly.”
Team Sanya are expected to arrive at Madagascar tomorrow, where they will survey the damage and continue to make plans to resume racing as soon as possible.
Sanya’s detour has caused a major shake up in the fleet – with Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand slipping into the lead at 1400 UTC, just 1.3 nautical miles ahead of overall leaders Team Telefónica, with PUMA Ocean Racing Powered by BERG trailing by 2.2 nm.
The Indian Ocean trade winds have given a much needed speed injection to the fleet, which is averaging boat speeds in the mid-teens as they head north to the safe haven on a superhighway of stable, if sometimes squally conditions.
However, it is fourth placed Groupama sailing team who are the ones to watch, with their southerly gamble now placing them further east with more constant wind and a better sailing angle.
Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said Groupama could gain an extra three to four knots boat speed than the rest of the fleet over coming days, as they are furthest from a menacing low-pressure system in the west.
Cammas says the French team’s combined ocean racing experience is paying dividends.
“I think we had a different approach from the rest of the fleet,’’ he said. “They tried to stay on a more direct route, waiting for opportunities, to cross the front. We will draw the conclusions in a few days.
"We ended up in a different option for two legs now, it certainly comes from our experience with multihulls and in France."
CAMPER’s under-30 bowman Daryl Wislang wasn’t deterred by Groupama’s favourable predictions, especially given the turbulence of the Leg 2 race to Abu Dhabi so far.
Wislang said his team were focused on the “end game” and have the boat fully stacked, with nothing left to leeward, as they settled in for a starboard “drag race” toward the Doldrums some 1600 nm away.
“As we’ve seen we had two restarts in the leg so far and the Doldrums could be the third,’’ he said.
“It’s just a matter of keeping in with the game. Anything can happen right down to the last 100 miles. There are always opportunities and we’ll just be making the most of them.”
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are trailing Groupama by about 60 nm, with a boat speed that is on average about two knots slower than their rivals.
The fleet is heading towards an undisclosed safe haven port in the Indian Ocean as part of the race’s anti-piracy plan for Legs 2 and 3. The boats will be loaded onto a ship and transported to a point off the Sharjah coast, where they will resume racing with a sprint into Abu Dhabi.
Pressure From Backmarkers As Camper Finds New Breeze
Tonight, as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet pushes on through the Indian Ocean on Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, leg and overall leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) is under threat from the backmarkers.
Although the order of play remains unchanged, northerly yacht Telefónica is facing a challenge by Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) and CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS), the two yachts furthest to the south. Both boats are averaging speeds over 18 knots and Groupama 4 has made a substantial inroad into Telefónica’s lead, taking out 30 nautical miles in the last three hours.
CAMPER is looking particularly sweet in her position furthest to the east and is now benefitting from a steadier northerly breeze. Groupama 4, just 17 nm to the south, is climbing steadily up to join her, while Sanya Lan (Mike Sanderson/NZL) is almost level pegging with Ian Walker’s Azzam further north again.
By tomorrow morning it will be clear who the winners and losers are, at least until the fleet reaches the next hurdle, the parking lot known as the Indian Ocean High. This is an area of light wind that sits beyond the low-pressure system that the fleet must swerve around before turning north in search of the trade winds and, finally, the dreaded Doldrums.