The Whitbread/Volvo has generally been considered an "Anglo" race, with the French preferring the solo and multihull stuff, like the Jules Verne and the Vendee Globe. So it was an interesting wrinkle that Groupama stepped up to build a VO70 and compete in this year's edition of the VOR.
No one knew quite what to expect, but now that we are a few legs in, and Groupama is leading the fleet to Auckland, I'm loving the flair and competitiveness of Franck Cammas and his team. They are in third place on the leaderboard, they have shown a propensity for bold fliers along with tactical shrewdness when necessary, and they are making it a much better race.
In addition, the daily Groupama news release consistently provides the analysis of weather and fleet position.
Here's the latest take from the French perspective:
Though the speeds are pretty similar, between 18 and 22 knots, the boats furthest East (to windward) have the advantage of being able to pull on the helm a little bit more and hence go faster. This is the case for the Americans who, having been caught up in a temporary lull, are on a course where they can bear away more to converge on the fleet. In fact there is a 200-mile lateral separation between the Spanish furthest West and Groupama 4, while Puma is still 40 miles further East. As they drop down towards Auckland, the sailors will see the tradewinds gradually shifting round to the North-East tonight, before clocking round to the ENE at noon on Wednesday and then virtually due East in the evening. The upshot of this will be a change in the angle that the boats attack the wind, forcing the trimmers to haul on the sails and the helmsman to negotiate what will be bigger waves which will be closer together. The average speed will drop as a result, but it won't be as significant the further East the boat is.
Given the grib files, it looks better to attack the Doldrums the furthest East possible and hence closer to Fiji rather than the Solomon Islands. From 5°N, which will become a reality in 1,000 miles and two and a half days at sea, the trades are likely to ease to around fifteen knots while the skies will become saturated with moisture. The squalls and the zones of calm are forecast to be highly developed to the East of New Guinea as far as the Solomon Islands. As such there's a compromise to be found between speed and heading to ensure they don't get too close to this equatorial snare.
So, bienvenue Groupama. Allez! I don't know if they can overtake CAMPER and Telefonica, but it's hard not to root for them to shake this race up.