Sunday, 2 August 2009

Groupama 3 - Onward to the Front!

by Vincent Borde

Franck Cammas and his nine crew are perfectly positioned on the transatlantic record route. At noon this Thursday after fourteen hours at sea, Groupama 3 was situated between Halifax (Nova Scotia) and Sable Island, maintaining an average speed since the start of over 32 knots. To reach Lizard Point in under 4 days 03 hours 57 minutes 54 seconds remains totally within their grasp...

Franck Cammas was in fine fettle this Thursday noon for the first radio link-up organised with the shore-based HQ in Lorient, at which point the green trimaran had already covered over 450 miles since setting out from New York on Wednesday at 20h 12' 16'' UT. "We're sailing downwind on flat seas with 20 to 25 knots of breeze. We've had to make a few sail changes since leaving the Ambrose Light, hoisting more sail aloft this morning as we set the gennaker. We're trying to go fast by heading up to accelerate. The crew is well aware of the score during such record attempts and the conditions aren't overly difficult: we've been able to rest whilst maintaining a high average speed. Our watch system is in place at the moment (0930 hours UT) Fred Le Peutrec, Lionel Lemonchois and Ronan Le Goff are on deck; Steve Ravussin, Bernard Stamm and Olivier Mainguy are on stand-by; myself, Loïc Le Mignon and Bruno Jeanjean are resting. As for Stan Honey, he is off-watch so he can take up position at the chart table and help us on deck during manoeuvres.

The trajectory as far as Lizard Point isn't as clear as all that: after Newfoundland we're going to have to choose between a route which sees us heading up a bit or bearing away a little, which has repercussions on the sail configuration. We're going to take that decision after Cap Race... The crux of the matter still centres on the end of the course as the front looks to want to drag its heels as we approach the goal."

Sylvain Mondon from Météo France, Groupama 3's onshore router, also explained the reasoning behind this start time, as Pascal Bidégorry and his crew opted to set out from the Ambrose Light two and a half hours later (Wednesday 29th July at 22h 47' 42'' UT): "Last night, a line of squalls passed over New York generating fairly strong S'ly winds (25-30 knots), which enabled us to set off a little earlier than planned. This decision is supported by the fact that within a few hours of the departure time, the course time was the same: taking the start a little earlier enables us to have a little room for manoeuvre in relation to the depression system which will accompany the trimaran after Newfoundland. A cold front has formed over Canada and will traverse the Atlantic as far as the British mainland: Groupama 3 will catch up with it as she approaches the Labrador current and keep slightly away from the front. As such it will be easier to control the trajectory by staying a little closer to the great circle route (direct route). It's a very good weather window as it prevents us from extending the course whilst remaining on the same tack."

Newfoundland, the nerve centre
As such Groupama 3's trajectory promises to be very rectilinear as far as Lizard Point and the passage permitting a more or less direct route towards the goal is less than 20 hours ahead of the giant trimaran. It is worth recalling that the warm current associated with the Gulf Stream is helping the multihull's progress, but as they approach the Grand Banks the temperatures will drop right off as they come face to face with the cold Labrador current, which runs along the East coast of Newfoundland. Fog, damp, shipping, fishermen... there are any number of obstacles dotted about this stretch of the course, but from noon on Friday, the path across the Atlantic will be clear with relatively calm seas because as the multihull catches up with the Canadian low, this system will push the Azores High southwards, leaving a soothed ocean in its wake.

Last night, Franck Cammas and his nine crew initially had to deal with sandbanks scattered around the start of the course off Nantucket. Compelled to sail twenty or so miles to the South of the direct route, Groupama 3 was able to slip along this Thursday morning and improve her attacking angle in relation to the wind (25 knots of SW'ly, sailing 130° off the true wind). As such, she has repositioned herself this noon onto the shortest route by stealing a lead over a cold front associated with a low coming across from Canada. The aim is to stay ahead of the front so as to hook onto the same stable SW'ly wind all the way to the area surrounding the English coast. In order to achieve this the average speed will have to be very consistent throughout the course and sailed on a single tack (contrary to the record set on 24th July 2007 by Groupama 3). Their improvement on the reference time of 4d 03h 57' 54'', should therefore be appreciable by Friday evening, as the green trimaran had to put in three gybes a long way South of the direct route two years ago...

The `hunter' Pascal Bidégorry, who set out from New York a little over two and a half hours after Groupama, was maintaining the same pace as Franck Cammas: it remains to be seen if the separation at the start will cause their trajectories to diverge off Newfoundland tonight!

Cammas - Groupama

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