Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Groupama 3 breaks even

[Source: Groupama] On the 44th day at sea, Groupama 3 has made up the ground on Orange 2 very quickly and is now ahead of the reference time. However Franck Cammas and his men have yet to traverse a ridge of high pressure. At that point the giant trimaran is bound to slow down in the lighter breeze, where it will be necessary to put in a gybe before hooking onto a low which will propel her as far as Brest.

Twenty-two days behind, twenty-two days in front! This round the world course, now less than 2,500 miles from completion, marks an important phase: the reversal of the trend. Amassing a lead of up to 620 miles (6th day) and a 492 mile deficit (40th day) off Brazil, Groupama 3's progress has often been thwarted by rather unfavourable weather. This Tuesday comes as a great relief then for all the crew aboard Groupama 3, who can now view the next stage of the programme in a slightly more relaxed manner and with more clarity, as the forecasts are encouraging for this Atlantic sprint.

"We have some good conditions, we're going fast and there's a great atmosphere on deck, but we're going to have a battle on our hands with the ridge of high pressure that's lying across our path. Nevertheless, we can really smell home now! We've been waiting for this moment to get ahead again... At times recently, it's been possible to read a bit of doubt on our faces. However, our routing was right and we're beginning to make gains now. We remain humble because we've still got a way to go yet and there may be some obstacles across our path, such as containers or the like... Nevertheless, the strategy that's taking shape is giving the crew something to be enthusiastic about! In principle, we shouldn't be lacking in wind at the end and we're still envisaging a finish this weekend" indicated Jacques Caraës during the 1130 UTC radio session with Groupama's Race HQ in Paris.

In time for spring...
Suspense continues to reign today though as the completion of the course will depend on the time Groupama 3 takes to traverse the ridge of high pressure: if the wind is greater than ten knots, the giant trimaran could hook onto a front the minute she escapes the high pressure. However, if the zone of high pressure shifts across at the same time as the boat, the time frame may be considerably longer and Franck Cammas and his men might have to bide their time until they can hook onto another disturbed system... The least favourable routing gives an arrival on Sunday morning.

"The last few days will be pretty tough and we're going to have to stay on our guard, because we've certainly accumulated some fatigue along the way. Some of us have lost weight and all of us have weaker legs due to not moving round much aboard Groupama 3. We've had a balanced diet, even though it's not excellent everyday! The boat has also lost weight and you can feel that she's lighter... Five years ago on Orange 2, we weren't spoilt after the equator with a very W'ly course and two ridges of high pressure to traverse. We didn't really get going again until we were level with the Azores. We've certainly got an advantage today, especially as Groupama 3 has a superior speed capacity when sailing close-hauled. We're also driving the boat a bit harder because Bruno Peyron had a bit more room for manoeuvre to beat the Jules Verne Trophy in 2005: he always remained below the maxi-catamaran's potential."

The final high pressure trap
"A ridge of high pressure is a barrier of light winds. However, that's not the only difficulty before the finish as there will be some fronts to negotiate. Groupama 3 has been well positioned since exiting the Doldrums, by shifting across to 40°W. Indeed the trajectory will be able to bend northwards and as the wind eases, the giant trimaran will accompany the rotation to the SE, then the S, gybing once the breeze has clocked round to the SW. The axis of the ridge of high pressure, where the winds are lighter, should be reached early this Tuesday evening. The zone which contains wind of less than fifteen knots stretches around 400 miles, with a particularly sensitive phase of around fifty miles with just ten knots or so of breeze..." says Sylvain Mondon from Météo France.

Once through this tricky zone, the wind is set to pick up considerably from Wednesday afternoon: an initial low is passing across the Azores to join up with Europe, whilst a second is due to follow suit. As such the wind will be established over this final section of the course through until the middle of next week, which means we can be fairly optimistic about the finish off Ushant. "The probabilities on a round the world in winter indicate that the strongest winds are in the Bay of Biscay: there will be waves of up to four to five metres and forty knots of breeze or more..."

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