Cammas piles praise on navigator as Groupama stride out

© Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
© Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race

Groupama sailing team topped the leaderboard with a strong strategic hold on the fleet on Monday -- a position skipper Franck Cammas put down to the cunning work of navigator Jean-Luc Nélias.

Cammas paid tribute to Nélias, whose skill in plotting a shift north 48 hours ago is paying off in style as Leg 4 continues from Sanya in China to Auckland, New Zealand.

At 1300 UTC, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand were in second place thanks to their southerly positioning but under threat from a still charging PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG on the far eastern edge of the pack.

Team Telefónica were fourth with a marginal advantage over Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were sixth, but poised to rocket up the leaderboard if their push to the east comes off.

The fleet is expected to turn south over the next 24 hours as they latch on to north easterly trade winds on the way to the equator and Groupama look well placed for that transition.

“For sure we are happy with the strategy,” Cammas said. “It was a good move to avoid a light patch in the south.

“Jean-Luc did great work on that because at one time we had to decide to go north, a difficult choice because it was a big investment compared to the normal course to Auckland.”

Cammas said Groupama’s decision to abandon their southerly route also meant they could head off PUMA, who have been charging back into contention after sailing north for several days.

“We will see the outcome of their course,” he said. “It is a great course but at the beginning it was also very risky, but now they are in a good position so congratulations to them because they took the risk very early.”

Furthest south, overall race leaders Telefónica are struggling to match the speeds of Groupama and PUMA in the east -- a situation which skipper Iker Martínez says could worsen when the fleet begins trade wind sailing.

“PUMA and Groupama have lots more speed to the east,” he said. “For sure once all the teams are in the trades PUMA and Groupama will have a better angle and will get more speed out of their boats.

“We’re not exactly where we wanted to be but it’s where we are, so we have to try hard to sail well and move forward.”

Martínez said despite their current uncharacteristic ranking Telefónica remained in good spirits and were committed to fighting their way back into contention by outsailing their competitors.

“Everyone’s positive on board, everyone’s very good,” he said. “The boat is in good shape and we’re working hard. We just weren’t in the right place. Now we have to fight hard because there are still 4,000 miles left.”

Having lost the leg lead to Groupama, CAMPER co-skipper Stuart Bannatyne said the priority was to minimise the damage and look for a chance to strike back.

“We’re having a tough time hanging with the other guys, but conditions are very pleasant on board so it’s not all bad,” Bannatyne said.

“We’re just chipping away and working as hard as we can to get back in the game. We’re hoping our position will see us with a nice angle and a nice line of pressure with which we can make some gains back on the front guys.

“We’re all in good spirits and working hard to get back into it. I don’t think we’re going to get as far east as PUMA or Groupama and we’re hoping we don’t need to.”

The boats are expected into Auckland around March 9, according to the latest ETA.

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