The sailing conditions were on Thursday afternoon as Groupama 3 began to drop down the western side of the Cape Verde archipelago.
With a 250 mile lead over the reference round the world record time, Franck Cammas and his men are now casting their minds to the best strategy to adopt once they cross the equator, which should take place on Saturday after six days at sea...
After the giant slalom along the Portuguese coast, followed by a passage offshore of Madeira and the Canaries, Groupama 3 is now concentrating on her big descent towards the equator. It will be another good day and a half before they reach the Southern hemisphere, at which point they will be able to put in a long tack along the Brazilian coast, still on port tack, until they hang a left and set a course for the Cape of Good Hope. There will be at least five days on the same tack in prospect then, even though the crew will have to frequently manoeuvre as the wind gradually switches from the NE (Northern hemisphere) to the SE (Southern hemisphere).
However, the weather situation isn't yet very clear off Brazil... "The Southern hemisphere isn't looking very rosy for the time being! It has been worse though, so there's still a chance we can get through it... The weather window is pretty tricky, but we no longer have a lot of options. For the moment, things are going rather well: we should even cross the equator earlier than we'd hoped on setting out, after six days at sea! Following on from that it's more complicated in terms of strategy, but it's also very nice to have to puzzle over the best way of getting out of these successive ridges of high pressure, the next of which is located off Bahia..." explained skipper Franck Cammas (FRA) during the noon radio link-up with Groupama's Race HQ in Paris.
"We're currently to the West of Cape Verde, in moderate tradewinds, southbound on a direct course. The Doldrums is our next 'course mark' as it's a sensitive zone to negotiate. It feels summery here in relation to what we experienced on setting out from Ushant! We're where we wanted to be and we're even a little bit ahead of what we forecast... We've been pretty successful at threading our way through two zones of light conditions off Cape Finisterre and the low off the Canaries on Wednesday."
As such, from Friday evening, Cammas and his nine crew will be taking on the Doldrums, an unstable zone of storms situated at around 4° North: the passage through this area shouldn't put them at too much of a disadvantage as the giant trimaran will tackle it on an offshore trajectory at around 27°-28° West. "What is more complicated is what's going to happen after the equator! Currently there's a weather barrier, which will be more or less surmountable according to the models: this is the key to a Jules Verne Trophy... Frankly we didn't dare hope that we'd be ahead at the Cape of Good Hope, but we mustn't be too far behind the reference time either! Right now there are some feasible passages for rounding the Saint Helena High, but it's not a done deal..."
At noon on Thursday, conditions were very pleasant for the crew and easy for the giant trimaran, with still slightly shifting tradewinds, varying between 15 and 17 knots, but regular in terms of direction. Lionel Lemonchois, who celebrated his fiftieth birthday on Tuesday, was relishing being at the helm: "The boat is flying along just as she should, making between 28 and 31 knots... It's so pleasant that an hour on the helm just flies by! She's slipping along all on her own."
Groupama 3's log (departure on 31 January at 13h 55' 53'' UTC)
Day 1 (1 February 14:00 UTC): 500 miles (deficit = 94 miles)
Day 2 (2 February 14:00 UTC): 560 miles (lead = 3.5 miles)
Day 3 (3 February 14:00 UTC): 535 miles (lead = 170 miles)
Day 4 (4 February 14:00 UTC): 565 miles (lead = 245 miles)
Best passage time to the equator from Ushant
Groupama 3: 5d 15h 23' (November 2009)
Jules Verne Trophy reference time to the equator
Orange 2: 7d 02h 56' (January 2005)
The Record To Beat
Record: Round the World, non stop, crewed, any type
Yacht: Orange II
Skipper: Bruno Peyron (FRA)
Dates: January-March 2005
Elapsed time: 50 days, 16 hours, 20 minutes and 4 seconds
Distance: 21,760 nautical miles
Average Speed: 17.89 knots