A cautionary tale from navigator Nélias

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

Groupama sailing team navigator Jean-Luc Nélias shares a cautionary tale with volvooceanrace.com about the approaching cold front, warning: “It’s not always the first to enter, who is the first to leave".

volvooceanrace.com: How are the sailing conditions - ideal?

Jean-Luc Nélias: Yes! To sail nicely on these boats, you need wind, but not too much. We got what we need, the weather is good and it’s rather pleasant. Right now we are still in nice conditions. It’s even a bit stronger, but it will decrease quickly -- we will hit a wall, a wall of no wind.

VOR: Can you tell us more about this weather system ahead?

JL: It’s a system we will have to cross. A bit like the Doldrums, I’d say! The first to enter it is slowed down and the first to leave it starts again and gains distance on the second, on the third, etc. Yet, once inside, it’s so hazardous and complicated that it’s not always the first to enter it who leaves it first.

VOR: How are the fleet lining up to cross the front?

JL: PUMA, Telefónica and us are now all in the same place because PUMA moved and came in front of us, and Telefónica beared away to place themselves in front of us too. The other two are a bit more to the west.

VOR: What do you expect to happen in the no-wind area?

JL: The models are different, one says that it’s a disaster for CAMPER and Abu Dhabi, another one says more or less the opposite. What’s important is the angle once outside. Once you’re out of that weather barrier, the more eastern boats will probably be favoured because they will have a better angle in the very, very, very light trades located north of that barrier.

VOR: Despite the uncertainty in the models, are you satisfied with your position?

JL: Yes, I’m happy with our eastern position. It’s a bit more logical, I feel like it’s less hazardous than what Abu Dhabi and CAMPER tried. From a strategic point of view though, it was rather clever from CAMPER to leave the thee Juan Kouyoumdjian boats, which are faster than them reaching. It wasn’t bad to try to follow their own route – closer to us, they would have suffered from a constant lack of speed. They tried something and Abu Dhabi followed them.

VOR: In regards to the speed of the three Juan K boats, what can you tell us about Groupama 4’s performance?

JL: We are rather use to being the hunted, rather than the hunters. Since the start, we’ve got some difficulties to catch the wagons. We were twice close to Telefónica, last night, they stopped under a squall, we came back on them, we saw their lights, and then they left again. So we’re talking: do they get the wind before us… Anyway, in general, we’ve been on the same option and they’ve always been a bit faster than us.

We keep looking, we’re investigating, we’re looking below the hull, we’re looking at the daggerboards, checking if there is some seaweed or plastic stuck, we’re trimming, all this. But the conclusion right now is that we are a bit behind.

VOR: Could it be related to your new mast?
JL: No, we don’t think so. We got the same sails and apart from a few things, the rigging is similar to the previous one. We know Telefónica is fast; in light airs, with the code zero, they have a small advantage on us. We have had a lot of light air conditions so it could explain it. With the J2 up, in stronger winds, reaching, we are unbeatable. After the start, we had some of these conditions and we came back on PUMA and Telefónica. We feel less confortable when it’s getting lighter.

VOR: How is the atmosphere on board?

JL: It feels good! On the other hand, we have the feeling that everyone is rather tired. All the adventures we went through left the bodies tired. It isn’t easy to come back to the rhythm.

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