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Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
Leg leaders Groupama sailing team are shaking the reefs from their mainsail as they leave 60 knot gusts and a snow squall in their wake on the race towards Cape Horn.

Irish Helmsman/trimmer Damian Foxall has been revelling in the chance to “creep the sail up the rig”, but he said his team are certainly not in comfortable sailing conditions yet.

“The closer we get to South America, generally speaking, the more difficult and confused the conditions can get,’’ he said.

“Once we get to Cape Horn everyone will breathe a mental sigh of relief, but then you have to go up wind for another couple of thousand miles and there’s some heavy reaching, so there’s an awful lot of banging and smashing yet.”

While the wind had calmed from gusting in excess of 60 knots to the high twenties, Foxall said there was still an unmistakable sense of Southern Ocean sailing on board.

“We’re not that far south, but you certainly feel the cold,’’ he said. “We had snow and a mix of hail yesterday in a thunderstorm. A bit of snow on deck always gives you the ambience of the place.”

The chill in the air coupled with the exertion of battling the Roaring Forties has definitely taken a toll on Groupama’s 11 men, Foxall said.

But while other teams had more serious injuries including dislocated limbs, the 43-year-old said his team remained tired, but relatively unscathed.

It is all about taking care on deck as “20 per cent of the time the cockpit’s awash with water,” Foxall said. And when you’re below deck you can’t let your guard drop either, he added.

“There have been a few knocks and bruises, nothing too serious," he said. “Again, it’s part of all this water coming on the boat with speed, even when you’re down below.

“At least on deck you have a sense of what’s going on. Down below you don’t really know what’s going on.  You can feel the boat accelerate down the wave, but you never really know how or when the boat’s going to stop, if it’s going to be a soft stop and the boat comes back up a bit like a successful surfer.

“Or, if it’s going to be like a surfer who gets it wrong and it stops brutally at the bottom of the trough. We get both of those, and if you’re not aware down below you can certainly get thrown around.”

At 1900 UTC the French team held just under a 50 nautical mile lead over second placed PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG. Not much of a lead in the grand scheme of things, Foxall reckons.

“It doesn’t mean very much on the big scale,” he said. “We’re still in the same bit of water and 40-odd miles ahead, that’s only one hour or one-and-a-half hours. If the boat’s going fast later on it’ll only one hour or so. Fifty miles here isn’t the same as 50 miles going up wind.”

Team Telefónica remain in third place, followed by CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who announced on Sunday they would have to go to Chile for repairs, effectively ending their hopes of challenging for Leg 5 honours.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are in fifth place, more than 1,000 miles behind the leaders, while Team Sanya are heading back to New Zealand.

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Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race

Laurent Pages and Damien Foxall on deck onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil.

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Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil.

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Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race

Laurent Pages driving onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil.