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Volvo Ocean Race: GROUPAMA leads the fleet through Pacific Ring of Fire

27/02/2012
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At 1000 UTC today as the fleet raced through the string of Japanese Islands that make up the Pacific Ring of Fire, Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas/FRA) was top of the table and in prime position to control the rest of the fleet by moving north or south according to the wind pressure.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) are 47 nautical miles (nm) to the north of Groupama and both teams have passed the Japanese islands of Kito-lo Shima and Haha Shima.

PUMA is powering through a wind corridor between a low-pressure to their north-northeast and a high-pressure slightly to their northwest. Between the two systems, the accelerating wind is propelling both teams towards the northeasterly trade winds at average speeds of between 16-18 knots.

It’s Read’s plan to try to stay to the north of the French team and maintain their separation, keeping east of Groupama 4. When they reach the trade winds, probably in the next 24 hours, they could have a better angle than Groupama 4 towards the Doldrums which are situated around the Solomon Islands.

“If the weather models agree, we will face a continuous header, pin-wheeling the fleet around the inside boats further to the south, like Olympic runners arcing through their first turn,” explained PUMA’s Media Crew Member (MCM) Amory Ross.

However, as always, there is a risk. For Read’s plan to work PUMA will need their current weather system to move to the east with them so they can maintain good wind pressure but they will sail more miles too. There is also the chance, that from their position in the north, the team may have to sail dead downwind in the next 24 hours in slightly less breeze. If they can keep east of Groupama 4, 50 nm of lateral separation in reaching conditions can translate into an advantageous broader angle and one or two knots more speed.

Suffering light and fluky conditions in the south are Telefónica (150 nm south of PUMA), CAMPER (43 nm north of Telefónica) and Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) sandwiched between, while Ian Walker and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has been following in Groupama’s wake.

“The weather reports are saying we should be in far more breeze than we are, but it’s just not here right now and every minute of light breeze is hurting us and helping the others,” wrote CAMPER’s MCM Hamish Hooper today.

Navigator Will Oxley had warned the crew of numerous submerged volcano eruptions as they race through the Pacific Ring of Fire and today they passed by an active one, just 14 metres below the surface.

“We have found ourselves in a piece of water that we haven’t wanted to be in,” said skipper Chris Nicholson. “We are making the best out of it, trying to continue east without too much expense. It is now about minimising damage so that we can have more opportunities further down the track.”

Spirits were lifted onboard Telefónica by news of the birth of a daughter to João Signorini and his wife Lotta last night. The crew celebrated by having a few puffs on a Cuban cigar they brought along especially for the occasion.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing suffered some damage to their starboard dagger board lifting mechanism, which has been fixed temporarily. Permanently losing use of the board would severely compromise Abu Dhabi’s speed, but the crew is confident that a long term fix is possible.

Team Sanya remain well in touch with the fleet. The crew is pleased with the boat’s performance so far and looking forward to the seven-day sprint to the equator.

The drag race is about to begin and in a day’s time it will all be about maximising boat speed.