The west comes good
With the north Atlantic high setting up to the west of the Azores, so the westerly group of boats in the Volvo Ocean Race have been knocking out big speeds. Yesterday lunchtime this group finally keyed into the northerly flow on the southeast side of the high and started to regain ground on runaway leader, Franck Cammas' Groupama. As its worst - at 1248 yesterday, second placed Telefonica was 244 miles astern of the French team with Puma holding third, nine miles back, and Camper a further 78 miles behind. By 16:21 Puma was up to 16 knots, Camper 17. By 2000 last night Puma had taken over second place from Telefonica making 20 knots, while Camper, still behind but on a track slightly to the east, was making 23. Over the early hours of this morning all three boats have been sailing at 20+ knots...
Meanwhile 684 miles to the ESE, Groupama has continued gybing down the African coast, currently off Western Sahara and last gybed away from the coast at 1500 yesterday afternoon. Overnight she was still making good progress, 10-15 knots of boat speed, but at the latest sched this has finally dropped below 10 knots. As a result second placed Puma has closed to 165 miles of her, a gain of 90 miles in 19 hours, while Telefonica is still stuck to the US boat, just 3 miles astern. But most impressive is that over this period Camper has closed from 78 miles astern of Puma to being 20 miles behind her.
Now for the Groupama crew, it is crunch time. The Cape Verdes lie 342 miles downwind of her and offshore there is still no wind. Will she gybe back to Africa again or not? We reckon she probably will as there is little wind offshore at the moment and later today the wind is forecast to build slightly with a corridor of 15 knots opening up directly south of the Cape Verdes. The Doldrums at the moment to the east of 30°W is between around 5-8°N, or roughly on the great circle, although this will certainly change by the time they get there.
The trio to the west are seeing the wind veering into the northeast. They have stuck with this shift and are now back on a course just south of due west once again. It is likely they will continue on this course for a while until such time as each crew feels it is right to gybe south. Unfortunately the decision is not simply when to gybe to aim at where they want to cross the Doldrums as until until Sunday there is a small bubble of high pressure (and no wind) to be avoided at around 18°N 34°W.