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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Groupama's Coastal Gamble Continues - Volvo Ocean Race Update

The French team will know over the next 24 hours if they have hit the jackpot. The huge lead they have accumulated close to the west African shore could be threatened by a new weather system and their three rivals who have suffered losses in the windless west.
Photo: Yanni Roui/Groupama Sailing Team.Volvo Ocean Race
Was it a radical strategy? Not so says skipper Franck Cammas who expected the other boats to follow when he made his call inside the first two days of Leg 1. But whatever the motivation, the team's anthem is AC/DC's Highway to Hell, the only significant question now is whether it was a wise one.

As of 1300 UTC on Thursday, the decision had brought them a lead of 140 nautical miles over Team Telefónica, who are ahead of PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand. Those three teams followed conventional wisdom by deciding that west is best when it comes to reaching the way point at Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing ready to rejoin the race Photo: Tim Stonton/Volvo Ocean Race
While it's a case of so far so good for Cammas, leading the first French entry in the race for 18 years, weather forecasts point to a new low pressure system that could come in to destroy the trade winds to their south.

The nightmare scenario for Groupama is to see their three main rivals starting to exploit the new system from Friday afternoon. By the following day, the trio could be hitting boat speeds of 18 knots in the pure trade winds, eating into the lead of a French team whose speed at 1300 was around 14 knots.

"It was not our choice to go alone," Cammas said via the Inmarsat-powered phone bridge in a conference call from Groupama 4. "Of course the Anglo-Saxons would say that the French boat went for the lonely path, but really that wasn't our choice.

"I have nervous moments for sure, but I don't share them. I just share my hopes. We've done everything we wanted to do up to now.

"We have never been surprised by the light wind areas – they were all announced by the routing -- but we are now entering another area and have a doubt about tomorrow, with light winds expected. We will have to deal with it to find a passage and make it work. On the other hand we have more wind than expected so we are a bit in advance, which is always good."
Photo: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
The other great unanswered question on Thursday was how Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing would progress with their replacement mast.

Ian Walker's team resumed Leg 1 officially at 0216 UTC on Thursday after returning to the point where they were forced to suspend racing when their mast snapped in horrific conditions on Saturday, just six hours into the race.

Sailing with a new mast, and with no more replacements in the locker, means the team will take a cautious approach.

"It is not normal practice to step a new mast and set off in the dark and straight offshore – new masts can sometimes take days to tune up but we don't have that time," Walker said.

"We also don't have the safety of a spare mast waiting for us if anything goes wrong. The stakes are now very high and we must sail accordingly.

"Right now we are taking it one step at a time. We will not sail fully loaded tonight until we can check everything in daylight.

"Just like falling off a horse it takes time to regain your confidence but you simply have to get back on it as soon as you can.

For the three boats in the west, the continued sailing in light winds was proving frustrating but the tight battle between Telefónica and PUMA's Mar Mostro was at least a welcome distraction.

"Now I get up on deck for four hours to struggle with the little wind there is, and to see if we can manage to put some distance between us and PUMA, who have been snapping at our heels since we left Alicante," wrote Telefónica helmsman Pablo Arrarte.

"At night, we can see their navigation lights and by day we see them pretty well, given that we haven't been further than 10 miles apart."

CAMPER were 90 nm further away from the way point than PUMA after choosing to head further north in a bid to catch stronger winds earlier.

Team Sanya, the sixth entry in the race, were forced to pull out of Leg 1 because of damage to the hull. They have finalised plans to ship the boat to South Africa in the hope of completing repairs before the second in-port race in Cape Town on December 10 and the start of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi the following day.

Lulu Roseman

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