Volvo Ocean Race- Lead change as fleet works their way through High

Craig Satterthwaite and Wade Morgan snack up before heading to bed, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12

A hard night is in store for the six boat fleet on Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race as they suffer light headwinds surrounding the Azores island of São Miguel, which they must round before pointing their bows towards France.

At 2200GMT a significant lead change took place as Puma moved from being in a group with Telefonica and Groupama to join what had been the trailing group of Camper, Abu Dhabi and Sanya.

According to the latest prognosis from www.predictwind.com!Predictwind the placings have closed up to the point where Puma leads Groupama by five minutes with Camper probably in fourth but only 15minutes behind Puma.

Those predictions are based on the time to finish rather than to hit the waypoint off Sao Miguel in the Azores.

At 1900 GMT Groupama were just 0.1 nautical miles (nm) ahead, having maintained their tenuous lead over hard-pushing Telefónica, while Puma Ocean Racing, 2.9 nm behind, complete the leading trio of sisterships. No one is giving an inch in what is turning into a battle of epic proportions.

'So far the three of us have been glued to each other for the entire race. It’s no wonder that three nearly identical boats are on top of each other,' said Puma skipper Ken Read.

The leaders should be free of the high pressure by Wednesday morning, but tonight the wind had eased considerably and speeds had dropped accordingly.

Latest position updates and predictions of both wind and optimum route from www.predictwind.com!Predictwind show that that the fleet has split into two groups on the approach to the Azores. The period of light winds will last about 10 hours, and winds will be lighter than earlier predicted.

Once around Sao Miguel the game seems to have changed from earlier expectations as the effects of a depression due to move down the French coast has diminished, meaning that the period of fast sailing in 40kt plus winds has reduced from an initial 36 hour period to about 12 hours, but winds will still stay in the mid-20kts average (meaning peak gusts of substantially more), boat speeds are expected to be in the 18-22kt range - not too much different from the early stages of Leg 8, which started in Lisbon on Sunday (UTC).

Easing winds have opened up two course options for the final two days of the race, with one option still recommending an optimum route to the north of the direct course, with a second option opting for a more direct route to Lorient.

The finish time is now predicted to be in the early hours of Saturday morning - a later time, reflecting the light air period now being faced and the slower final stages of the Leg.

Currently Groupama are the northernmost boat in the fleet, making 9.4 knots, with Telefónica on her starboard hip and Puma just shy of two miles to leeward.

The southerly group of Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, Abu Dhabi and Sanya are just as closely bunched -- just 12.9 nm separate Groupama in first place from Sanya in sixth position, with 1232 nm to go to the leg finish in Lorient.

Read believes the leg will be won or lost after the turning mark where the fleet will meet an aggressive North Atlantic depression.

'It’s a question of who can deal with the big breeze best and who can avoid breaking in the meantime,' he said.

Puma’s Mar Mostro has performed well on windy downwind stretches and Read said he would not bet against his team pulling off another leg win to make a hat trick of first places.

However, he also said, 'I’m not sure I’d lay every dollar down for us either at the moment. There’s a bunch of good boats out there and it’s hard to pick them on any given day'.

The fleet are expected to round the Azores turning mark in the early hours of June 13 on their way to a Lorient finish at the weekend.
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