Tuesday, 2 February 2010

JVT: Swings and roundabouts

by Vincent Borde and Caroline Muller

After 24 hours on the water, Groupama 3 is conceding a deficit of nearly a hundred miles in relation to the reference time. However, this minor discrepancy at the start of this round the world is nothing to worry about, since it was all part of the plan for Franck Cammas and his crew as they set sail from Ushant on Sunday afternoon.

On paper, this might appear worrying, but on water the situation is becoming favourable again for the giant trimaran this Monday afternoon: the calm conditions settling over the Bay of Biscay are now a distant memory for Groupama 3. This was the first challenge during this impromptu start, which only really took shape 24 hours before they set off. Indeed the chance to be part of the `meteorological window' was worth taking... And for the time being the forecasts are holding true on the water! The ride across the Bay of Biscay was fairly quick until the early hours, where Franck Cammas and his nine men had to put in a gybe to anticipate the NE'ly wind shift.

"This Monday lunchtime we're sailing under gennaker and full mainsail on calm seas, which is enabling us to slip along nicely. We've managed to get through the tricky section to the North of Cape Finisterre, where it was important not to be late so as to avoid any risk of being hemmed in by the zone of high pressure: the first obstacle is behind us! We benefited from a fairly steady wind for three quarters of the trip across the Bay of Biscay: the breeze suddenly kicked back in off Ushant, indeed it was even a little ahead of schedule... We had up to thirty knots under one reef and small gennaker on very settled seas, but we really had to be on the alert. After that it was necessary to gybe in a easing, freer wind, but it was particularly cold at that point! It was reminiscent of the Indian Ocean... though there was a beautiful full moon.

Zigzags prior to the straight lining

Groupama 3 had to link together three gybes to clear Cape Finisterre and free herself from the coast (and the shipping) in order to benefit from an E'ly wind, which was increasing in strength the further south the giant trimaran got. From midday, Franck Cammas and his nine crew were racking up steadier speeds again for the long drop down towards the equator. As such the haemorrhage of miles conceded in relation to the reference time has been stemmed and this afternoon the boat was making the same speeds (over 22 knots) as its predecessor, Orange 2. Groupama 3's position has become favourable as she will now be able to make the descent towards the Cape Verde archipelago on virtually one tack.

"The next objective is to negotiate a low, that we're going to skirt to the West of, offshore of Madeira: we're going to have some downwind conditions, however the breeze may be fairly strong, with thirty knots and more on Tuesday evening! Before that there is this fairly straight linking phase, which is where we're at right now. The trajectory suggested by the routing is very close to the great circle route (direct route), which will also enable us to make up some time, but there will still be two tricky little stages nonetheless: the entry into this low pressure and the arrival of the tradewinds, involving the negotiation of a ridge of high pressure..."

Therefore Groupama 3's course is likely to take her fairly close to the three archipelagos of Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verde, but Franck Cammas and his navigator Stan Honey know that they mustn't hug these highly disruptive landforms too tightly: "We're going to pass to the West of them, but at Cape Verde we'll be forced to close in on the islands... We may see land one last time before Cape Horn! For the time being though, the situation in the Southern Atlantic isn't very clear: we opted to seize this opportunity because it was the end of the stand-by period, but it's certainly no joke..." In the meantime, the Saint Helena High has time to reposition herself and the crew has been able to get into the rhythm in what will be a considerably warmer atmosphere in the hours to come! Groupama 3 didn't have it easy last night, but from tomorrow morning the situation will be reversed and her deficit on the reference time will quickly melt away...

The crew and organisation aboard Groupama 3

• Watch No.1: Franck Cammas / Loïc Le Mignon / Jacques Caraës
• Watch No.2: Stève Ravussin / Thomas Coville / Bruno Jeanjean
• Watch No.3: Fred Le Peutrec / Lionel Lemonchois / Ronan Le Goff
• Off watch navigator: Stan Honey goes up on deck for manoeuvres
• One watch system on deck, one watch on stand-by ready to help manoeuvre, one watch totally resting

The record to beat

Currently held by Bruno Peyron on Orange 2 since 2005 with a time of 50 days 16 hours 20 minutes at an average of 17.89 knots. Lionel Lemonchois, Ronan Le Goff and Jacques Caraës were aboard at the time.

Cammas - Groupama

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