Groupama's flier pays off

80 mile lead to French VO70s as the fleet lines up for the Indian Ocean Doldrums crossing

Thursday December 22nd 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Chart above courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and high res GRIB from PredictWind

While her flier hugging the coast of Africa may have destroyed her chances on leg one of the Volvo Ocean Race into Cape Town, Groupama 4's flier last week, south of the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, as they were held up by a trough moving east with them, has paid a handsome dividend.

The French VO70 skippered by Franck Cammas, pulled into the lead 48 hours ago. She subsequently used to her weather gauge to bear down on the rest of the fleet and by yesterday morning had extended her lead to 80 miles. As the boats behind, led by the Ken Read-skippered Puma, have fallen in astern of her, so Groupama has managed to maintain her advantage over the last 24 hours and at the latest sched this morning is 84 miles ahead.

The next hurdle of the race course will be the Indian Ocean doldrums, however the boats are keeping as west as the piracy exclusion zone allows (which in this zone runs from Mauritius to a point just south of the Maldives) in order to avoid an area of high pressure to their northeast. With Groupama currently at 13°S, the Doldrums, to the west of the high, seem set to start at around 10°S, the westerlies to the north of the Doldrums not fully kicking until around 6°S. The aim will be to cross the Doldrums and to coincide the tack to the northeast just before they run into the exclusion zone.

Yesterday Franck Cammas commented: “Not very easy conditions, we are reaching, the boat is very wet, lots of water on deck. Plus these are wind angles where you have to change sails a lot to follow the variation of the wind angles. Luckily it’s warm on deck and inside the boat, but we are all wet! It’s fast and noisy, but we are happy with our position and Groupama likes these conditions.

“I think the helmsman enjoys steering a lot in these conditions. It’s fast; we are surfing on the waves. The trimmers are looking backwards, at the wake, as, because of the spray, they cannot keep their eyes open!

“Of course we are happier when our options, which are different, are working! But the race is far from over. We will enter a light wind area before crossing the Equator and the fleet will compress. Yet, at least our first part was a success. We are happy about it, after the first leg. We found confidence again in the way we are calling the tactics.

“The best thing to do is to position ourselves between our competitors and the Doldrums. We are trying to move in their axis little by little." Cammas admits that he has never sailed in the northern part of the Indian Ocean and it's all new to him.


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