Groupama on a flier
While Telefonica, Camper and Puma have spent the last 24 hours striding west out into the Atlantic, so Franck Cammas and the crew of Groupama have boldly taken a different tactic and are hugging the Moroccan coast.
Groupama split from the pack yesterday morning, while Camper appeared to follow suit last night for around eight hours before reverting to a westerly course when they ran out of wind. At around 0300 this morning when they turned their bow west again, this move had not only cost Chris Nicholson's team their slender lead, but had dropped them to fourth place, some 13 miles behind Groupama as she took the lead in terms of DTF, by virtue of being closest to the great circle.
Navigator Will Oxley said it had been testing on the nerves, but there were still positives to draw from the challenge: “The boat’s being sailed well by the guys and boat-on-boat we feel like we’re doing quite well, but we’re pretty pleased we put on an extra food bag right now because it’s going to be a long leg.’’
However over the course of this morning the tables have turned again and as Groupama has been becalmed off the Moroccan coast, the westerly group have been keying into the southwesterlies and are currently making 12-14 knots. While they are upwind on port, at least they have wind whereas Groupama has over the last few hours fallen into a hole, her current speed just 2 knots, dropping her back to third, 19 miles behind leader Telefonica in terms of DTF but still ahead of Camper.
Groupama is likely to benefit from the local thermal breeze when it kicks in and the GRIBs are showing favourable 10 knot northerlies just a little further down the course. In the meantime the French team just have to endure the lull and wait. The forecast shows a ridge following the line of the African coast just a few miles offshore for the next 48 hours and Groupama should be able to squeeze down the narrow corridor between this and the coast, but the forecast shows the wind here being just 5-10 knots and it is a question of whether there is enough for them to compete with the westerly group.
As to these tactics, Cammas reported that his team were focused on playing the weather rather than the other boats. “It’s a very different option from the other boats – we will cover less miles but we need wind, and the next 24-hours will be crucial for the result,’’ he said. “We think that’s the good choice and we didn’t know the other boats would not go there. On paper, this option is not that risky.”
Back in Alicante, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team are plan to step their replacement rig today. Ian Walker said the team were expecting the arrival of two replacement parts from Valencia today, which would complete the assembly of the new mast. He added he was hopeful that his crew would mount the new mast and rig in Azzam tonight, with the team hitting the water and returning to racing tomorrow.
“To be honest, I want to get back in the race in the next 24 hours if I can because the fleet aren’t getting away that fast and it wouldn’t be impossible to catch them up,’’ he said. “All being well we might get the mast in tonight and then off tomorrow morning. This is our last mast so the last thing we want to do is anything unseaman-like, go out to sea and then find we have the same problem again or another problem then that would put us out of the race, so the stakes are high."
Team Sanya are looking to ship their boat directly to Cape Town where it will be repaired at record pace, hopefully in time for the start of leg 2.
Skipper Mike Sanderson explained the situation: “The piece of boat that we are going to chop out and replace is five metres long by three and a half metres wide by a metre high. That’s the same size as a reasonable sized powerboat that you could chuck a 100 horsepower outboard on and go out for a day’s fishing.”
Sanderson admitted it was a major challenge logistically to ship Sanya to Cape Town, with its earliest arrival expected to be 28 November. He said it was also a practical challenge, with the team having to complete one month’s work in just one week.
“None of the timings add up right now, but the moons are starting to align for us a little bit. We have to get the job done properly. This is the Volvo Ocean Race and it simply isn’t an option to head out without the boat being 100 per cent.”