All but done for Groupama? Frank Cammas’ team is on the verge of taking the VOR trophy as they head into their favourite conditions

Under normal circumstances you’d say a boat with a 25 point lead in a race that has 36 points left on the table was pretty likely to win, but this is no ordinary race.

The 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race has seen so many breakdowns throughout its trip around the world that the leader board has changed more through this than successive acts of tactical brilliance. Little surprise then that few in Lorient were prepared to call Groupama’s commanding lead a done deal.

Yet as the fleet started its last offshore leg to Galway, the forecast strong breeze and reaching conditions would clearly suit the boat that everybody now acknowledges as the fastest in the fleet.

Telefonica, who’s fall from first to 4th overall has been a slow and painful decline down the leader board for Iker Martinez’ team, were keen to display that they hadn’t given up completely as they led the fleet out of Lorient.

In order for Groupama to lose their grasp of the overall trophy they have to finish the offshore leg last and not finish the in port race, while Telefonica would have to win both the last leg and the in port to put them on even points with the French.

Alternatively, Groupama not finishing the offshore leg and Telefonica winning would be another way for the French to hand the lead back to the Spanish boat.

But given the drama of the last nine months, clearly anything could happen.

Here’s the official word on the start of leg 9:

The fleet departed Lorient on Leg 9 for the 550-mile dash to Galway, Ireland with French-entry Groupama firmly atop the overall standings with a total of 225 points — 25 points ahead of their closest rivals PUMA Ocean Racing with just one leg and one in-port race remaining.

With a maximum 36 points still up for grabs, a minimum fourth-place finish by Groupama (worth 15 points) in Leg 9 would guarantee them the overall victory in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.

It would be the first victory for a French team in the race, formerly known as the Whitbread Round The World Race, since L’Esprit d’Equipe was victorious in 1985-86.

While Groupama are firmly in control of their overall destiny, podium placings are still very much up for grabs for the three teams in positions two, three and four. PUMA, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and long-time race leaders Team Telefónica are all fighting for spots on the podium.

The entire fleet could face some tough conditions ahead over the next 48 hours as they make their way to Galway, the 10th and final city hosting this 11th edition of the race. The Celtic Sea, the stretch of water that lies between the Volvo Ocean Race fleet and the overall finish line, is notorious for strong winds and big seas, churned up by the Celtic continental shelf.

On leaving Lorient, the fleet will first sail south in 15-18 knot westerlies, leaving Ile de Groix and Belle Ile, small islands in the Bay of Biscay, to starboard before charging north west in 25-30 knot SSW breeze towards the next waypoint — Fastnet Rock.

The iconic landmark, renowned among sailors, is the most southerly point of Ireland, and must be left to port.

The biennial Fastnet Race, from the Isle of Wight, UK, around Fastnet Rock and back to Plymouth, has on many occasions seen boats hit by ferocious weather in the Celtic Sea.

Most recently in the 2011 race, won by Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the 100ft superyacht Rambler, one of the fastest race boats in the world, capsized off Fastnet Rock.

The fleet should reach Fastnet Rock late morning on Monday, and once round it will likely face strong westerly breeze and huge seas as they pass Blasket Island on the south-west tip of Ireland.

From there it’s a straight run up to the Aran Islands, a set of three islands marking the entrance to Galway bay that boast 200-metre tall cliffs, making the most of the strong currents that accelerate round the many headlands.

Eiragh lighthouse, at the western end of the Aran Islands, must be left to starboard before the fleet turn east and head for the finish line in Galway Bay.

The current estimated arrival time is late Monday night and into early Tuesday morning into Galway.

The Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 officially ends on July 7 with the Galway In-Port Race, more than nine months after the race started October 29, 2011 in Alicante, Spain.

Overall Leaderboard (after Bretagne In-Port Race)

1. Groupama sailing team 225
2. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 200
3. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 196
4. Team Telefónica 194
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 124
6. Team Sanya 40