Current Leg 3 frontrunners Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE have been racing practically neck and neck on Monday as the Southern Ocean continued to test the Volvo Ocean Race fleet.
After eight extraordinary days at sea less than three nautical miles split leg leaders Dongfeng from arch-rivals MAPFRE in the runner-up spot, with both crews within 2,700 miles of the finish line in Melbourne, Australia.
The action at the front has been so tight that earlier today MAPFRE had to ease their sails in order to avoid a collision with leaders Dongfeng on one of many close crosses over the past 12 hours.
It is an incredible occurrence given their position thousands of miles from anywhere. In fact, in the past 24 hours the fleet has sailed a few hundred miles north of the Kerguelen island chain, one of the most isolated places on the planet.
Overnight MAPFRE slipped to almost 20 miles adrift of Dongfeng, but when the sun came up again Xabi Fernandez's Spanish crew were back on the coat tails of Charles Caudrelier's Franco-Chinese outfit.
“Not too long ago we had a port-starboard situation with MAPFRE, and that's an amazing thing to have happen,” Dongfeng's Carolijn Brouwer reported. “The guys on MAPFRE had to ease their masthead sail and arc up to avoid hitting us. We've been battling it out, gybing the whole night through, with probably an hour max on each gybe. It's been pretty tiring.
“For us it's a bit frustrating that they're so close, because we had a lead on them but they sailed a bit better and caught up. That said, it's amazing to be out here in the middle of nowhere with your opposition right next to you. It's a bit surreal but it makes us push the boats harder.
MAPFRE's sailors meanwhile have been buoyed by their ability to bounce back and reel in Dongfeng. Navigator Juan Vila revealed that, for now, they are happy to stay in touch and wait for the opportune moment to strike.
“I have Dongfeng on the AIS every now and then,” Vila said. “We gain on them sometimes but it's back and forth. There are plenty of opportunities left to do something different. Hopefully we will find our lane and it will work out for us.”
Fourth-placed Team Brunel were dealt a cruel blow with key crewmember Annie Lush suffering an injury to her back.
Lush and teammate Peter Burling were grinding on the aft pedestal as Team Brunel prepared to gybe close to the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone when a huge wave swept them into the guard rail at the back of the boat.
Burling was unhurt but Lush was left with pain down her right side and struggling to move her right leg.
The crew responded immediately, carrying her down below and into her bunk where she has remained since.
The British sailor, 37, has been prescribed painkillers and plenty of rest by on-call race doctor Spike Briggs. While she recovers, the rest of the crew must push on shorthanded, making their task ahead even more challenging.
“Even though the ice gate was coming up it didn't matter - we would have got a penalty but safety comes first,” Bekking said. “Annie will be confined to her bunk another 24 hours and hopefully she'll be ok. She's a tough cookie.”
Just over 220 miles behind the leaders, team Akzonobel were working hard to get back into the game after a broken mast track last week relegated them to the back of the pack.
Now back up to full speed, navigator Jules Salter was today spending his 49th birthday poring over long range weather forecasts as the crew rides a front east.
“What we get now from this system we may pay for later,” he said. “With still such a long distance to run to Melbourne and the fact looking at the models for just a week ahead is more like crystal ball gazing we have to hope that something will change.”
Leg 3 – Position Report – Monday 18 December (Day 9) – 13:00 UTC
1. Donfeng Race Team -- distance to finish – 2,683.3 nautical miles
2. MAPFRE +2.7 nautical miles
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing +55.8
4. Team Brunel +65.4
5. Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag +85.0
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic +144.3
7. team AkzoNobel +280.7