Groupama sailing team are preparing to fight tooth and nail to defend their overall race lead in the closest ever Volvo Ocean Race when the six teams set sail on the Leg 8 race to their homeport Lorient, France.
Since knocking Team Telefónica from the top of the leaderboard during Leg 7, the French team have gone from strength to strength, winning the Oeiras In-Port Race on Saturday.
Oeiras In-Port Race Highlights
Franck Cammas and his men hold an eight-point lead over the Spanish team, a hard fought one that they’re not prepared to give up easily.
“We need to work hard and push the boat on the next leg because we’ll see windy conditions and that’s hard on us and the boat,’’ Cammas said.
At 1300 local, 1200 UTC, tomorrow the fleet will head out into the North Atlantic where they will have to negotiate the temperamental Azores High before rounding São Miguel island and heading back towards the coast of Brittany.
While Leg 8 is the shortest leg yet, 1,940 nautical miles, it is set to test the teams with complexities including the Azores High low-pressure system that regularly rockets east towards land and temperamental local winds near Lorient.
Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said the fleet was expected to finish in under seven days.
With the finish of the nine-months ocean race now less than a month away and just 23 points separating the top four teams the race is set to go down to the wire.
The teams have just two short legs and two inshore races remaining to pick up vital points, setting the stage for an intense and thrilling battle.
The sailors speak
The teams left the dock at Lisbon just before midday local time, ready for the penultimate leg on what has turned out to be the closest ever Volvo Ocean Race. Here are some final thoughts from the competing teams.
Damian Foxall – Groupama (1st place; 189 points)
I don’t think we could have ever hoped to have been in a better position right now, but our lead is really on a small number of points. It really is a restart here in Lisbon. We’ve got a couple of places on Telefónica, and a couple more on PUMA, but with two legs and two inshores to go there’s still a lot of sailing left.
It’s pretty classic for the next 24 hours – there’s nice Portuguese trades blowing with a bit of compression with the high off the Azores. It will probably be a very nice start – the river here was a fantastic location for the In-Port and I expect it will be again for the leg start. Then of course we’ll be sailing fast out towards the Azores before a big slow-down in the Azores High. How we get through it and who gets through first will probably be the key to this whole leg.
It’s a long time since we were back in France. The project started there two and a half years ago and it’ll be good for us all to be back to familiar surroundings after a whirlwind tour. For the French guys it will be great to get home and after that it’s not too far to Galway.
We’ve got a momentum that established after Abu Dhabi. From there on we’ve been doing well, even on the inshores which we weren’t too comfortable with initially. We’ve blown that idea out of the water. Everyone can make mistakes but all in all we’re on the up and that’s a key part of winning the Volvo Ocean Race – to continue momentum and keep getting better. We’ve just got to keep going.
Joca Signorini — Team Telefónica (2nd; 181)
In the last in-ports we haven’t had our best results so far but this is a key point of the race and we still only need to do well. Our mindset is just to keep doing the best we can. We’re still the best team in terms of offshore points. We believe in our team, believe in our boat, and so far we’re the only team not to change the crew.
Ken Read — PUMA (3rd; 176)
It’s going to be pretty important, it’s going to be tight reaching in breeze, conditions that Groupama have been quite strong in. We’re going to need a little help in this tight reaching stuff. We’re going to try a few new things, but it hasn’t been our strongest condition, so we might be in a position where we have to just hang on in the tight reaching and hopefully in the power running after the Azures we’ll do some damage then.
Chris Nicholson — CAMPER (4th; 166)
It’s looking like a fair bit of jib reaching or fractional zero reaching. If it’s like that, it’s ok for us. We’ll hang in there with them until the Azores. I think it’s all looking pretty quick – some are saying five days but I don’t believe that, I think it will be more like six days. But it’s a fairly quick trip to Lorient and we could get a lot of breeze on the way back from the Azores to Lorient. There will be a little bit of compression going into the Azores but you’d still prefer to be in the lead at that point because you’ll probably break out sooner.
Then it’s about how you deal with this low pressure at the end. I’m kinda hoping it’s a big system which it’s possibly shaping up to be. We haven’t seen these boats running in 30 knots plus so it would be like a whole new field to play on.
Can you still win? Absolutely. Especially when you’ve got a forecast like this. The boats haven’t sailed in this much breeze and so boats will break. We’re hoping we’re not one of them, but boats will definitely break in those conditions. Or, you have to throttle back a long way. There’s a lot of risk and reward on this leg. We understand the points, we understand the fleet’s position and we have faith in our team and in our boat.
Ian Walker — Abu Dhabi (5th; 107)
The first part of the leg is going to be a drag race and we might struggle a bit in the reaching conditions – we know we’re not as quick as the other boats there. But the Azores High is going to give us a chance to get back into it, and there’s also going to be some heavy weather downwind conditions which we’ve not seen all the boats in so far this race. We’re all very pumped for this next leg – the win into Lisbon was amazing for the team and we’ve very much enjoyed out time at the top.
Aksel Magdahl — Sanya (6th; 34)
It’s basically going to be reach over to the Azores, starting in 20 knots of breeze as soon as we get out of here, and ending in not much wind at São Miguel. It’s more or less a drag race over there. We’ll probably sail a little bit south initially to get a better angle but there won’t be too much navigation do to there. Our focus will be on the start, the first couple of hours.
Hopefully that high is going to get in the way so there’s some opportunities there. We’re basically sailing into a huge high pressure. Then it’s about who can get out of that high first after we round São Miguel. Whoever gets out first will be in better breeze and a couple of more knots of breeze. I reckon it will be really hard to catch anyone who accelerates out of that high before you. Of course we’re sailing to an area with less certain breeze in Lorient so there could be something happening at the end there.
There doesn’t look to be any opportunities before the Azores. There might be one there with the high and with the local conditions of the islands we’re rounding. Definitely the fleet will compress there. It’s going to be a little bit tough on us with our boatspeed and it’s going to be a glamour leg for Groupama, but we’ll see. Also, getting further north in Europe the breeze becomes more uncertain and you could find yourself in better breeze or no breeze. We’ll just have to wait and see.