Thursday, March 18, 2010

The pendulum effect

In the disturbed air flow stretching right across the Atlantic, Groupama 3 is continuing her rapid progress towards the finish line and has substantially increased her lead over the reference time. Her arrival off the Créac'h lighthouse is still scheduled for Saturday, but the ETA remains open for the whole of Saturday as the low pressure area could slow down the giant trimaran.

Though the weather window for the departure was narrow, the doors to the finish are now wide open! However, 1,500 miles from Ushant, Franck Cammas and his men are not yet done with the changing conditions: by having to approach the centre of low pressure which is currently pushing the giant trimaran along, the wind will become more unstable and is likely to switch suddenly from the SW to the NW. The wind will also strengthen to over thirty knots with gusts in the squalls and as such the crew will have a number of manoeuvres to perform before they enter the Bay of Biscay.

"There are short seas and the wind is not very stable so we’re not slipping along quite as smoothly as all that. The sky is very clear though, unlike yesterday. On Wednesday night, we had it all: the wind went from six to thirty knots and on top of that we had torrential rain. Since we went through the front, everything has gone much better, with the both the wind and sea conditions both improved. However both will get messier as we get closer to the centre of the low pressure" indicated Franck Cammas during the 1130 UTC videoconference at Groupama’s Race HQ in Paris in the presence of culinary presenter Jean-Luc Petitrenaud.

Front sails…

After 46 days at sea, the crew is starting to get impatient and although the distance between the land and the sailors has come down to a few large surfs, it was clear during the video conference with Franck Cammas that the crew was eager to return to their families ... and to normal food!

"We're going to have a good steak because dried food looks more like dog food! Eating is not a delight every day: fortunately we’ve got fish dishes and sauces prepared by Philippe Rochat to give us a bit of flavour... We are still sailing too fast to fish and we have only raised a small flying fish out of this world tour, which was so small that we returned it to the sea."

The arrival meal will still have to wait until Saturday though as, by then, the crew will have to be fit and ready for the tough, but also irregular final stretch: the front will force the men to reduce the sail and during such nights with almost no moon, navigation is always a bit stressful, especially when they have to manoeuvre. We shouldn’t forget that the shipping will intensify as they close on Cape Finisterre and the sea state will deteriorate as they hit the continental shelf.

And front swells…

"We'll have a rough night ahead as it is always difficult to skirt close to a low pressure centre: the wind is very irregular and the sea becomes chaotic as the waves mix with the powerful W’ly swell! These phases are unpleasant and risky for the equipment and we still have a rather tricky 24 hours ahead of us... We'll have to navigate carefully but quickly because we must not be overtaken by the low pressure or we may have to negotiate even more difficult conditions! We don’t think twice about lending the guys on watch a hand for the manoeuvres and sail changes so as to avoid fatigue and constantly adapt to the changing wind."

Groupama's Race HQ has this Thursday evening moved to Brest to prepare for the arrival of the giant trimaran which should make the Brittany coast on Saturday. Once this low pressure area has rolled over tonight the ETA (estimated time of arrival) can be refined to one or two hours. However, so far, the possible arrival time lies between 0700 and 1900 UTC, depending on the sea state and the regularity of the wind. Indeed, though the Jules Verne Trophy clock is ticking, the yo-yo effect of the weather could have an influence! -