Volvo Ocean Race: Last blow before Cape Horn

Groupama and Puma still a day away from exiting the Pacific

Thursday March 29th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Volvo Ocean Race charts courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems

Positions at 0655

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Groupama Franck Cammas 55 20.950s 080 44.150w 16.4 66 2375.5  
2 Puma Ken Read 55 36.650s 082 24.750w 16.2 67 2429.1 53.6
3 Telefonica Iker Martinez 53 28.980s 091 17.680w 15 117 2760.2 384.7
4 Camper Chris Nicholson 45 00.030s 108 14.400w 12 120 3585.4 1209.9
5 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 48 15.730s 117 17.950w 11.3 84 3775.2 1399.7

Cape Horn remains 458 miles away as the crow flies for leg five leader Groupama although she will have to sail more like 500 miles. Yesterday evening Groupama gybed on to starboard for four hours but both she and Puma have more time to spend on starboard before they reach Cape Horn in around 24 hours time.

Below Ken Read reckons that they are going to be in for a blow as they reach Cape Horn. This is due to the depression to their northwest (see the image above) cruising their way over the next 48 hours. This will cause the wind to veer into the north tonight before it backs once again into the northwest. However according to the European model it appears that the two race leaders should be able to stay ahead of the gruntiest part of system and in the northwesterlies they should be able to make good progess towards the exit from the Pacific. 

Over the last 24 hours, injured Telefonica has done a good job, only losing around 24 miles on the leaders, however finally Abu Dhabi has managed to stop the rot her deficit on Groupama the same as it was 24 hours ago. There is some concern for the Spanish VO70 however as the centre of the depression to the northwest of the leaders looks sets to roll right astern of them. At present the data from the boat indicates that they are experiencing a calm before the storm moment, with the wind already having veered into the north west and just 15 knots while by this afternoon they should be see 40-50 knots.

Abu Dhabi meanwhile is in the awkward southwesterlies to the west of this depression and it doesn't look like she will be able to put the pedal fully to the metal until the wind veers into the northwest on Saturday morning.

Ken Read reports from Puma:

Believe it or not I can't sleep. The last few days have brought another host of issues. Most pressing has been the infection in Jono Swain’s elbow that started with a quick wash down the cockpit about a week ago and has turned into a mess. Lots of antibiotics and things have turned a corner for Jono, starting with him going on watch this afternoon. I have been driving for him these last few days. That is what we do out here. We all just keep backing each other up.

We are getting close. Maybe that is why I can't sleep. But of course this leg couldn't be complete without one final pasting. A secondary low is coming down the coast and will kick our butts about 250 miles from the Horn. Makes for an exciting last little bit seeing it will be VMG downwind sailing with a few gybes thrown in…in about 40 knots of wind. Well, I guess we are used to it by now, but it still doesn't make it right.

To say it is amazing this leg has turned out the way it has so far would be a vast understatement. I think Groupama and us have sailed pretty similarly. We basically communicate to each other through the 3-hour scheds. We see when the other boat is pushing or not, and we use that info to monitor our own boat. This is a race after all. When it is full-on and you need to back off a bit, you use your sched to say to the other guy, “Don't worry, we aren't going to push,” and thus starts an ego-driven, boat-breaking, crash and burn fest. Let’s be smart and pull the trigger when the conditions warrant. Of course, then one of us pulls the trigger to sail full speed immediately after the sched in order to hopefully maximize the time to be back up to speed! I guess we are communicating to a point… The ego-driven, boat-breaking, crash and burn fest then starts all over again.

Two things are certainly clear. 1: When conditions warrant, we all have the power to break these boats. No matter who says this or that boat is built to withstand the elements in order to be able to be pushed harder than others, it just isn't true. Believe me, you can't call these boats fragile by any means. In fact, with the torture we put them through, it is simply amazing they are in one piece at all. Every boat is just one bad wave away from being healthy or hurt – any boat for that matter, from a 30 weekend cruiser to a Volvo 70. These boats are no exception. Which leads to point 2: We have certainly been calculated, but also lucky. We have caught air on many occasions when it was least expected. The crash that ensues is staggering. Heads pop out of the hatch and a crawling inspection around all the framing begins within minutes. We have been lucky so far. It’s like a car crash. You always wonder if it would have happened if you had left the house 5 seconds later or slowed at the orange light when you didn't. We have missed our car crash so far, so our timing has been pretty good. Have I ever mentioned that I knock on wood every time I say stuff like this? Our little piece of wood at the nav station is getting worn out.

So with Jono making a recovery, Thomas toughing it out and slowly getting better with his shoulder every day, and Casey also toughing it out and making all of his shifts now – we nearly have our pre-leg watch combinations back on deck. We are still rotating some of the hurt guys out and resting them when we can. Hopefully we get near full strength by the time we turn the corner, then the push is on. It is the race within the race. Get to the Horn, then race to Brazil. At least it seems like that sometimes.

- Kenny

Yann Riou writes from Groupama

Around 30 hours from Cape Horn, Groupama 4 has rediscovered a sea state which is enabling her to accelerate a little again. It has to be said that our direct rival is beginning to make its presence and its insistency felt, by gradually picking up the pace.

So we're responding to it.

As such we're entering a phase which is a little more reminiscent of a race than what we've been experiencing over the past eight days.

On the current menu we have the following: A drop down towards Cape Horn in downwind conditions, with gybes and hence a tactical element; monitoring and analysis of the positions, headings and speeds which we receive every three hours; some choices to be made as regards the sail configurations as well as the opportunity to gradually pick up the pace, without putting the boat at risk of splitting in two with every third wave.

In short, it's like we're racing.

That said, there are two or three things, which remind us that we're sailing at 56 degrees South though!

The slightly purplish faces of the guys when they come back down below after their four-hour watch for example. The condensation on the deckhead, which translates as big drops, which slap down onto your face as you sleep. The time it takes to do things too, is significant. Getting dressed to go up on deck for example: 15 minutes. Getting undressed on your return. Another 15 minutes. If you add it all up, that works out at around two hours a day, at a rate of four sessions outside each day. And that doesn't include the extras, such as a call to go up on deck to manoeuvre during your sleep watch. That's one of the best, that one!... The manoeuvres also take more time than they would in a temperate zone. So you think twice before launching into a gybing mission or a sail change.

So yes, the race is reasserting itself, but still at a slightly slower pace, and with the foot hovering over the brake pedal just in case. 


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