Volvo Ocean Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says the next 12 hours could be key to determining the eventual Leg 3 winner and will give a clear indication whether or not the bold easterly move by Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg will pay off.
Tonight the VOR fleet are facing 25 knot winds and steep waves, testing both the crews and their boats as they close on the Vietnam coast.
Puma were a distant third when they split from the fleet to head east, but Infante says based on the latest data they now stand a better than average chance of getting themselves right back in the fight to win the second stage of Leg 3.
'They are beginning to look strong,' Infante said. 'But there is risk as well. Their position to the east of the fleet means they will benefit from the expected right shift in the wind and they will avoid the worst of the adverse current along the Vietnamese coast.
'However, they will have to pass through an area called ‘Dangerous Ground’ with uncharted rocks and other obstacles to negotiate. It’s risk and reward but it could pay off for them.'
Latest weather forecasts suggest the strong winds forecast for tonight may only reach 25 rather than 35 knots, but with waves up to four metres Infante says the teams will still have their hands full to slow their boats down and avoid any major damage.
'The crews start depowering the boats in 17 knots of breeze and anything more does not make them go any faster and increases the risk of damage,' he said.
Infante also said Puma could gain from avoiding the backbreaking work of continually tacking along Vietnam’s coast which leaders Team Telefónica, second placed Groupama sailing team, third placed Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand and fourth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will have to endure on their way to Sanya.
'Tonight will be an important one,' Infante said. 'In the morning we will start to see which side is paying.'
At 1600 UTC today Team Telefónica held an eight and a half nautical mile (nm) lead over Groupama, with Camper more than 40 nm back in third and Abu Dhabi almost 40 nm further behind in fourth.
Puma’s easterly track had dropped them down to fifth on the leaderboard with Team Sanya 260 nm off the lead in sixth.
Current estimates have the first boats to complete leg 3 will be arriving in Sanya on February 4. Volvo Ocean Race website