Vestas 11th Hour Racing is today within 235 nautical miles of the Leg 1 finish line – and a stunning opening stage victory.
Charlie Enright's crew led the seven-strong fleet around the Porto Santo North waypoint, a last-minute addition to the course, at 2200 UTC on Thursday evening, marking the start of the final sprint to Lisbon.
With a healthy lead over second-placed MAPFRE of almost 22 miles, Vestas 11th Hour Racing must now be considered the odds-on favourites to arrive in Lisbon first.
A further 20 miles behind the leading pair a scrap is on between team AkzoNobel and Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese flagged crew having crept up on their Dutch rivals to get within eyesight.
Less than a mile separates the pair – virtually a dead heat – meaning the podium places in the inaugural battle of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race are far from secure just yet, something Vestas 11th Hour Racing sailor Tom Johnson pointed out in an interview on Friday afternoon.
“Everyone’s thinking about the finish, but nobody is talking about it yet,” he said. “We have to get the job done and get across the line… if everyone does their job well on board, we’ll be ok. We can’t relax… we have to keep making sure we are sailing as fast as we can.”
As of Friday afternoon on the 13:00 UTC position report, the teams were sailing on a tight reach in a steady 11 to 13-knot south-easterly breeze with one last transition to make – across a weak 100-mile wide high pressure ridge.
Crucially, it could provide one last opportunity for a reshuffle in the fleet in the final few miles.
Throughout the fleet, each team was on the lookout for any sniff of a chance to improve their positions. Even if it only comes just ahead of the finishing line.
“The next chance for us to gain miles or even pass Vestas is at the entrance to Lisbon, which is always tricky,” said MAPFRE boat captain Antonio 'Neti' Cuervas-Mons. “It's pretty much straight forward for now, and we'll have to see what happens closer to Lisbon.”
Meanwhile Dongfeng Race Team On Board Reporter Richard Edwards told the Volvo Ocean Race Daily Live Show today how his team were so close to AkzoNobel they could now read the branding on their sails.
For Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag skipper David Witt the final miles are going to be as much about defence as attack.
“We'd love to be on the podium but we'd also love to be fourth or fifth – we just don't want to go back any further,” he said. “We've learned a lot on this leg so it's all good. You're not going to win the race in leg 1 – no-one is.”
The latest ETA for the first arrival into Lisbon is near 14:00 UTC on Saturday afternoon, with the rest of fleet arriving throughout the afternoon and evening.
For race fans, the online tracker will now be updating in real time through to the finish at www.volvooceanrace.com/en/dashboard.html
We will also have a live arrivals show for the finish on www.volvooceanrace.com and our Facebook page @volvooceanrace
Leg 1 – Position Report – Friday 27 October (Day 6) – 13:00 UTC
1.Vestas 11th Hour Racing - distance to finish – 233.7 nautical miles
2. MAPFRE + 21.9nm
3. team AkzoNobel +41.3
4. Dongfeng Race Team +42.0
5. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag +50.0
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic +61.7
7. Team Brunel +61.7