Volvo Ocean Race: Groupama makes a break

As several of the boats got to feel the wrath of Tropical Storm Alberto yesterday

Tuesday May 22nd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Yesterday the Volvo Ocean Race boats went playing with Tropical Storm Alberto some 150 miles out to sea from the Carolinas and were making some of the fastest speeds we have seen so far in this race. But the significant move came when Groupama broke east, sailing a shorter course and at high speed. Mid-evening (GMT) yesterday Cammas and his crew had extended their lead to 47 miles...

Chart above courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and GRIB (GFS model) from PredictWind

Positions at 0655

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Groupama Franck Cammas 31 54.480n 072 49.070w 20.16 81 3078.53 0
2 Puma Ken Read 31 38.430n 073 13.850w 20.64 80 3104.55 26.02
3 Telefonica Iker Martinez 31 38.970n 073 22.700w 21.22 75 3111.04 32.51
4 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 31 41.520n 073 40.480w 21.43 73 3123.4 44.87
5 Camper Chris Nicholson 31 41.130n 073 44.970w 21.29 80 3126.99 48.46
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 31 30.820n 073 44.650w 21.29 84 3131.4 52.87

Tropical Storm Alberto seems to have been anchored off the east coast of the USA, southwest of the Carolinas, since Sunday and yesterday afternoon most of the fleet got to experience what it was like to sail close to the centre of such a system. Unexpectedly the system shifted slightly south yesterday resulting in the majority of the fleet getting trapped around its eye where they experienced thunder storms and lightning on a biblical scale along with giant windshifts. As a result there were several erratic choices of course.

Worst affected were Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Sanya, and for around an hour and a half yesterday afternoon both boats were heading due south in stiff easterlies to get away from the centre of the system as quickly as they could.

“There was a chaotic 12-hour period as we ended up on the wrong side of it, beating upwind in 35 knots,” recounted Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker. “All of a sudden, instead of a fast ride east to the south of the storm, we were right in it and in survival mode with three reefs and a heavy weather jib.”

The most worrying aspect was the lightning striking all around, right down to the water. “It didn’t seem possible that our carbon mast could avoid a direct strike,” Walker added.

Camper was one of the worst affected teams. “Unfortunately, yesterday we had probably one of the worst skeds of the whole race so far, dropping close to 25 miles on the other boats,” said skipper Chris Nicholson.

However anticipating something along these lines would happen, Jean-Luc Nelias and the navigational brains-trust on Groupama late morning yesterday speared off to the east. Puma made a similar move, taking the middle ground at around lunchtime yesterday (GMT) but was then forced to head back south, converging with second placed Camper late in the afternoon. Camper had their own hiatus yesterday evening for reasons that are unclear, causing them to head north and in doing so dropped to fifth place, behind Abu Dhabi.

Since yesterday evening, the boats behind have enjoyed better pressure - while Groupama was sailing with wind in the low 20s, for those behind it was high 20s, low 30s, and as a result they have closed back in on the French VO70, with Puma up to second, 26 miles astern of Groupama at the latest sched. At the latest sched the conditions have evened out between the leader and those trailing with the wind in the south in the low 20s.

“We might actually be faster than this low,” viewed Camper navigator Will Oxley. “If it is stationary and we move off it won’t be so good. If it moves with us we could see some fast 24-hour runs for sure. For now we’re concentrating on this particular system – there’s another low ridge at the end so there’s plenty of stuff going on. We don’t care how long the leg takes as long as we’re first.”

“With a bit of luck we’ll be able to stay in the south east quadrant of it [the storm], and, as the depression moves northeast we can ride with it giving us a good angle up to the north east,” Ian Walker added. “It really then depends on whether we can stay with the depression up towards the ice exclusion zone or whether we try to hop across the Azores High. It’s all very uncertain at the moment.”

The Tropical Storm is now slowly easing east (as was forecast) but with no great enthusiasm and it is likely that the boats will outrun it. However there is another depression further north and moving up the coast and between these two systems they are still developing strong southerly-southwesterly flow to propel the boats out into the Atlantic. The GFS forecast has the northerly depression centred over Newfoundland and continuing ENE on Thursday but it looks set to out run the boats. It will be of vital importance to stay in the favourable southwesterlies to the south of this for as long as possible as they moment they drop off this they will be into headwinds to the southeast of an area of high pressure that is shifting ESE from Newfoundland over the weekend.

Photo by Andres Sorriano/Sanya/Volvo Ocean Race:

Photos by Yann Riou/Groupama/Volvo Ocean Race:

 

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