Friday, November 11, 2011

Groupama 4 Faced With Tough Decision - Volvo Ocean Race Update

It's crunch time for Volvo Ocean Race Leg 1 leaders Groupama 4, who must decide whether to quickly head west and wear the loss or hold their nerve and enter the windless area that begins south of the Cape Verde Islands 600 nautical miles ahead and then turn west.
Photo: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
Regardless, the African Triangle,  the windless area at the eastern end of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), better known as the Doldrums, must be avoided at all costs and Groupama 4 is heading straight for it.
Photo: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
The ITCZ is a band of low pressure where the northeast trade winds of the northern hemisphere meet the southeast trade winds of the southern hemisphere. Here the typical weather consists of squalls and thunderstorms interspersed by flat calms, where boats can be left wallowing for days. To avoid this, the fleet must cross the ITCZ at its western and narrowest point, before being set free into the southeast trades.
Photo: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
As the fleet converges, it will begin to compress as the first boat sails into the wall and the chasing pack  still benefits from good breeze. The further to the west the fleet makes its Doldrums crossing, the less effect they usually have, allowing the yachts usually to slip from one trade wind system to the other relatively seamlessly. However, this leg has not played out as expected.

At 1000 UTC today, Groupama 4 led by 242 nautical miles, but is 573 nautical miles to the east of the fleet, 92 nautical miles nm off the coast, while the boats in the west lost ground again.

Telefónica (Iker Martinez/ESP) lost 15 nm, PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) 14 nm and CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) 35 nm. All three teams have suffered seeing Groupama 4 clock up a massive lead, but, at the same time are facing a big decision which could open the door for those who decided west was the best option earlier on.

The waiting game is interminable. The heading still reads 240 degrees and the crews feel as if they have been heading west, with Cape Town 90 degrees to their left, ever since they left Alicante. “We just can’t seem to get there from here,” writes the crew from PUMA’s Mar Mostro who continue their private duel with Telefónica nine nm ahead.

The weather has proved far more complicated than predicted and the drag race west looks set to continue for at least another 24 hours.

Overnight, CAMPER's long awaited tack bought only temporary joy as the boat flew for just moments before sailing into a black hole. They continue west where they are desperately trying to claw back some lost ground.

Wind speeds are expected to improve to 20–25 knots today. The CAMPER crew say the all-important gybe south, when it come, “will be like turning off a slow country road and onto an empty motorway with no police to slow us down.”

This morning Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing decided to retire from Leg 1 after contemplating their best option going forward in the race would be to ship the boat to Cape Town. The team said that this would give them more time to fine-tune the rig in time for the second in-port race on December 10 in Cape Town.

Lulu Roseman

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