[Source: Groupama Sailing Team] It’s a very important win for the French team, who now have a chance of moving up a place in the overall standing (depending on Camper’s result). Most significantly though, Groupama 4 is the first boat to stand out on an oceanic leg after the three consecutive Spanish victories in Cape Town, Abu Dhabi and Sanya. Furthermore, Auckland is a city which is geared towards the sea and sailing is the national sport along with rugby. Indeed a number of Kiwi sailors are racing aboard the boats competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, including bowman Brad Marsh on Groupama 4. To take this win in New Zealand, Franck Cammas and his men have taken 19 days and 15 hours to sail the 5,220-mile great circle route, though in reality, the prevailing headwinds on this leg have forced them to sail a total of over 6,500 miles across the water!
A paying strategy
It’s in the middle of the North Pacific that Groupama 4 took control of a fleet which had spent nearly a week battling against the easterly wind, forcing the six VO-70s to steer a course over 800 miles away from the direct route, before they could finally slip down towards the Solomon Islands. On 26 March at 2200 UTC, Franck Cammas and his ten crew found themselves to windward of the leading pack with the Americans hot on their heels. Having acquired this placing through some judicious repositioning, they were able to begin to bend their trajectory around to the South-East with over 200 miles of East-West lateral separation over their two most dangerous rivals in the overall standing, the Spanish on Telefonica and the New Zealanders on Camper.
This strategic investment translated into a lead of a hundred miles over the chasing pack during the passage through the Solomons’ nerve centre: Groupama 4, with Puma and Abu Dhabi in her wake, were able to pass outside the Melanesian archipelago whilst Telefonica, Camper and Sanya were forced to traverse them. The equatorial Doldrums didn’t affect the hierarchy and the French boat was able to continue her descent due South in a favourable position. Franck Cammas, with his navigator Jean-Luc Nélias, then decided to cover their rivals by slipping along to the West of New Caledonia to reposition themselves in front of the `western’ trio. What remained at that point was the obstacle of a depression situated on the direct route towards New Zealand: Groupama 4 got around its western limit to finish up by sailing into a stiff breeze and a very difficult sea state as far as Cape Reinga, in the North of New Zealand.
The final battle
Despite a leak in the bow which the crew managed to stem the day before the finish, Groupama 4 had a lead of over a hundred miles in front of the remainder of the fleet, which was very tightly bunched as they rounded the extreme North of New Zealand. At that stage all Franck Cammas and his men had to do was to complete the remaining 180-mile course to Auckland in a breeze which, in the end, eased to just a dozen knots or so. Welcomed in by thousands of French and New Zealand supporters, the winning boat crossed the finish line at 2333 hours local time (1033 UTC), boosting her position on the podium in the overall standing to bag a total of 103 points since the start of the event.
This overall podium will evolve according to the order in which Groupama 4’s pursuers cross the finish line, since there’s virtually nothing separating the Americans, Spanish, New Zealanders and even the Emiratis and Chinese, who are expected to reach Auckland midday on Sunday (local time). Grouped within less than fifty miles of each other, these five pretenders to the leg podium will have to deal with a breeze which is set to fade the closer they get to Auckland. If Puma finishes second, Franck Cammas and his men are assured of second place in the overall standing and above all, will make up at least ten points on the Spanish leaders! As such this victory in New Zealand is a very important moment in the Volvo Ocean Race. At the midway mark, the French boat stands a chance of making up its deficit in relation to Telefonica, since there are still five oceanic legs and six In-Port races left to race…