There’s compression at the front of the fleet, after a tricky night in the Doldrums on Leg 2.
The front five boats have been sailing under a large cloud mass for most of the night, which has given some speed boosts of up to 16 knots, but also been extremely flukey and tricky to navigate – and it has seen the distance between the leading pack shrink significantly.
At the 0700 UTC position report on Sunday, Dongfeng retain their lead – but it has been cut yet further, with MAPFRE just 3nm behind, and Vestas 11th Hour Racing trailing the leaders by 5.7nm.
Dongfeng Race Team OBR Jeremie Lecaudey describes the building feeling of pressure onboard the front boat – with Caudrelier’s crew now able to see their rivals on the AIS again.
“I can see them on the AIS!". If you hear that on a Volvo Ocean 65 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean it can go both ways. It's either bad news because you're being chased by a concurrent that just got within 5 miles of you. It could also be good news, if you are the chaser, for instance MAPFRE and Vestas 11th Hour Racing today. If the night wouldn't be as pitch dark and the sky wouldn't be as cloudy, on deck you could probably see the green front lights of Mapfre from the Dongfeng boat and our red rear lights from the two chasers.
“What seemed like a relaxed day yesterday with rain showers, breakfast surprises and despite a short sail repair a good 12 miles lead on the other yachts will change into a different program today. First of all we're going to pass the Equator. Second we first have to deal with the doldrums nightmare for the sailors, going from one cloud to another. And now thrown into the mix are three boats next to each other adjusting their sails and stack every minute the wind changes.”
It's been a positive night for Brunel, who passed AkzoNobel to slip into fourth place – and have Vestas and MAPFRE in their sights.
"We have AkzoNobel less than a mile from us, and we can see MAPFRE and Vestas on the bow," said Carlo Huisman in a video clip sent back at 20.44 UTC.
"We have the best sailor in the world on the helm chasing them down – I think they're in trouble!"
By midnight, Bouwe Bekking's boat had AkzoNobel in their rear view mirror.
Meanwhile, Turn the Tide on Plastic, who 24 hours ago were over 100nm behind the leaders, have cut that deficit to under 50nm by taking an eastern course which, right now, seems to be paying dividends.
Dee Caffari’s team opted to stick closer to the African coast, and the conditions have been much more sailable than those experienced by their rivals. Turn the Tide on Plastic are within 2nm of Scallywag, and at the position report, were sailing 3 knots faster than the Hong Kong campaign.
Vestas 11th Hour Racing OBR Martin Keruzoré wrote about the random nature of the Doldrums: "It's incredible, the wind takes turns in two minutes, it changes direction, the clouds are monstrous, it's all grey. Vestas 11th Hour Racing spent the day of 11 November 2017 in this meteorological transition zone.
“A transition means a lot of sail changes, depending on the pace and the strength of the wind: we can reach 90 degrees to the wind with 15knts of wind and end up 5 minutes later in 30knts and under torrential rain. Not even time to take out the shampoo, we must immediately close the MH0 to avoid the Volvo Ocean 65 wiping out. The mainsail, already reefed, will also need to be reduced in size before being reduced to shreds by gusts. It looks a little like the end of the world without the explosions.”
The breeze will continue to veer into the south east, and will start to build so benefit the boats furthest south. The current ETA for crossing the Equator is overnight or early on Monday morning UTC.