Volvo Ocean Race leader Groupama 4's 84.7-nautical mile lead could be unassailable. However given that strong wind is forecast from Cape Reinga right through to the finish in Auckland, the race for podium places remains a tight one amongst the weary fleet.
Groupama Sailing Team about to tack, during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.
After 19 days at sea the pack is chasing hard, but concentrating on beating each other rather than mounting an assault on Groupama, who have just over 400 nm to go in Leg 4. This would only be possible should the French team sail into a windless hole after rounding the Cape, and while leg wins have been lost before in the final miles of the course, it looks unlikely this time.
There will be some very tired crews celebrating in Auckland this weekend. Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg (Ken Read/USA) are particularly exhausted after three consecutive days and two consecutive nights of squalls, which resulted in some very stressful sailing.
'It’s certainly wearing us down,' said media crew member Amory Ross. 'Everybody is up on deck moving sails and those below are moving gear as the wind comes and goes. It has been all hands on deck for most of the day and we sleep when we can. A lot of people are sleeping still dressed in their foul weather gear,' he added in a radio interview, the tiredness in his voice clearly audible.
At 1900 UTC, both second-placed Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and third-placed Puma, separated by just nine nm, had closed to within 95 nm of the leg leader, as the entire fleet made gains. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) are anxious to recoup miles whenever they can and Puma is potentially their victim. With only 25 nm between them, Nicholson aimed straight at the Cape with his foot hard down, hoping to make a gain.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) have a contest with Team Sanya, who have Mike Sanderson as the only skipper from New Zealand in the race. With Sanya sailing faster and closing to within 21 nm, Ian Walker will have his team fully focused on the job in hand.
Volvo Ocean Race website