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Volvo Ocean Race: Golden ticket for GROUPAMA as SANYA gamble in the north

17/12/2011
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A 24-hour all or nothing gamble by Franck Cammas’ Groupama sailing team could just have earned them a golden ticket past the weather trough that has gripped the Volvo Ocean Race fleet for more than 72 hours.

Twenty four hours ago Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias took the French boat deep into the lower latitudes searching for a way through the low-pressure line which for days has blocked the fleet from fast trade wind sailing.

Although still lying in sixth place, it today looks like this bold move could reap significant rewards as fresh breezes from the remnants of a low pressure system have propelled Groupama through the trough line and closer to the trade winds.

The French crew have now swerved north to avoid the effects of the South Indian High and if they can successfully dodge that obstacle they will be in for some fast trade wind sailing which could see them power into the lead over the next 24 hours.

Remarkably Groupama are now further from their destination than when they started the leg in Cape Town, a statistic which media crew member Yann Riou made light of.

“There is a trophy for the boat who covers the most miles in 24 hours but it’s a shame there isn't one for the boat who covers the most miles full stop,” he said this morning. “That would be us for sure.”

The rest of the fleet could be trapped by the trough for some time yet.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand are currently neck and neck for the lead and are now fully committed to their easterly track. However the pair will have to hope for a break in the trough soon if they are to head off Groupama’s expected charge.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Telefónica are also continuing east and lie in third and fifth place respectively.

Meanwhile, fourth placed Team Sanya this morning made a dramatic tactical move, heading north towards a tropical depression forming off the coast of Madagascar which could see winds as high as 40 knots.

If they can thread the needle between the island and the depression then their strategy could pay off, but they also risk being trapped by the storm with no escape route from the punishing headwinds.

Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson and navigator Aksel Magdahl have been deliberating over the northern route for some days.

“We’ve been seeing this option for so long and we think it’s still there. There are some risks – mainly for the first 24 hours,” said Magdahl.

“Of course it feels weird to turn around and that’s pretty much what we are doing now,” he said. “We are heading towards a low pressure off Madagascar, hopefully we’ll get some good breeze up there and we will be on the other side of that low. This is what we believe in.”

It won’t be the first time that Magdahl has made such a move in a Volvo Ocean Race. In the last edition he made a similar call in the Southern Ocean which resulted in a massive leg win for Ericsson 3.

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