There are close battles being won and lost up and down the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as the crews settle into trade wind sailing conditions.
Every boat in the fleet in Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race is back up to speed and enjoying trade wind sailing conditions as they push south towards the doldrums some 1000 miles away.
The boats are on a tight reach, with wind and boat speeds in the mid to high teens.
Team AkzoNobel heads the leaderboard at 1300 UTC, positioned south and slightly west of the bulk of the fleet, while Scallywag is alone, 30 miles further south and positioned well out to the west of the fleet. The leading pair is separated by less than five miles on distance to finish.
“We’re neck and neck with AkzoNobel, leading the fleet, heading to the doldrums which is where I think the race is going to be won or lost,” said Scallywag skipper David Witt.
“The doldrums is going to be very interesting and we’ve made sure to set ourselves up where we want to be for that so we’re pretty happy where we are at the moment.”
Scallywag and team AkzoNobel enjoyed the smoothest transition into the trade winds, speeding past the group to the northeast who were wallowing in light and unstable conditions for the better part of six hours last night.
At one point overnight (local time), MAPFRE, Dongfeng, Brunel and Turn the Tide on Plastic were within about two miles of each other. In fact, Brunel and MAPFRE were much closer than that.
“We had a good bit of fun last night,” explained Brunel’s Peter Burling. “We kind of got stuck about a boatlength behind MAPFRE and we had a good little battle there for about half an hour. Eventually we managed to get over the top of them, so it was good.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
MAPFRE and Dongfeng made a decisive turn to the west, trying to minimise their time in the unstable conditions. Brunel and Turn the Tide on Plastic weren’t able to follow them and a split developed.
“They both speared off doing 12 knots to the west and we just couldn’t get over there and that was bloody annoying,” said Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking. “And then Turn the Tide on Plastic came up underneath us. We slowly but surely got the breeze but MAPFRE and Dongfeng found it first and they’ve made a massive jump on us.”
As the top boats on the leaderboard, it is clear MAPFRE and Dongfeng want to stay within sight of each other at this stage of the leg. On Tuesday afternoon, the 1300 UTC update shows the pair tied together, separated by only a few hundred metres.
It’s going to make for exhausting racing on the charge south. The next obstacle is the doldrums, whose passage proved decisive on Leg 4. The teams will need to choose their entry point over the coming 48 hours or so.
“If I could put the boat anywhere, apart from putting it on the finish line, I’d put it exactly where we are now,” concluded David Witt.
Time will tell if his optimism is justified.