Spanish team MAPFRE shot into the lead of the penultimate Volvo Ocean Race leg as the fleet rocketed round the coast of Scotland on Wednesday.
The painfully light and fickle winds that dogged the seven teams on Tuesday as they crossed a high pressure ridge had today been replaced by powerful south-westerlies that were blasting them north-east at breakneck speeds.
The onboard speedos were screaming into the mid-20s as winds built to more than 25 knots around ten miles off the coast of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.
Having profited from the northerly route through the high-pressure ridge, MAPFRE emerged at the head of the fleet on Tuesday evening – and at 1200 UTC had built up their advantage to five miles.
Overall race leaders Dongfeng Race Team occupied the runner-up spot, with Turn the Tide on Plastic in third a further three miles behind.
Although more than 600 miles of the 1,300-mile leg from Cardiff, Wales, to Gothenburg, Sweden, remain, the pressure on the front-runners is relentless.
If MAPFRE were to win the leg with Dongfeng in second place, the Spanish team would be tied on points (should Dongfeng, as projected, collect a bonus point for fastest overall elapsed time) with their Chinese rivals setting up a winner-takes-all final leg from Gothenburg to The Hague.
“Crossing the ridge to the west of Ireland was critical,” said MAPFRE helmsman Rob Greenhalgh. “We spent the 24 hours prior to that getting as far north as we could to make the crossing as comfortable as possible.
“We all exited at a pretty similar time but we’ve managed to make a little extension on the others. So far so good – we’ve got all the main players right where we want them.”
With so much at stake, the teams are pushing harder than ever before in the knowledge that what happens now will ultimately affect their overall position in the race.
“It’s going to be downwind, quite windy, and now we have to be fast to catch up to MAPFRE,” said Kevin Escoffier while steering Dongfeng Race Team through the waves.
Already exhausted from eight months of full-on ocean racing around the planet, Leg 10 is taking its toll.
It might be the shortest leg of the race to date but it is also shaping up to be one of the toughest.
“We haven’t slept much at all this leg,” said Australian Olympic sailor Nina Curtis, a crewmember of fourth-placed Team Brunel.
“Even when it was super light we were constantly moving the stack around. I think the most sleep I’ve strung together in one go is one hour. I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired before. The guys told me it would be intense but this is a whole new level of intensity.”
In less than 36 hours the teams are expected to arrive in Gothenburg, but from a weather perspective it’s about to get much worse before it gets better.
The crews will have to fight through gale to storm force winds near 45 knots, driving rain and poor visibility as they cross the North Sea and head south along the coast of Norway.
They can expect to be pushed to their limits – and beyond – before stepping on to dry land again Thursday night.
The nail-biting action can be followed live all the way to the end of the leg on the Volvo Ocean Race tracker.
The ETA into the finish of Leg 10 in Gothenburg, Sweden is currently late on Thursday evening UTC.
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 10 Leaderboard at 12:00 UTC on Wednesday 13 June
1. MAPFRE – 596.9 nautical miles to the finish
2. Dongfeng Race Team – 4.8 nautical miles to leader
3. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 7.6 nautical miles to leader
4. Team Brunel – 8.6 nautical miles to leader
5. team AkzoNobel – 9.8 nautical miles to leader
6. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 16.5 nautical miles to leader
7. SHK / Scallywag – 52.4 nautical miles to leader
Volvo Ocean Race Points Table after Leg 9
1. Dongfeng Race Team – 60 points
2. MAPFRE – 59 points
3. Team Brunel – 57 points
4. team AkzoNobel – 48 points
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 36 points
6. SHK / Scallywag – 29 points
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 26 points
** Should there be a tie on the overall race leaderboard at the end of the offshore legs, the In-Port Race Series standings will be used to break the tie.
Current Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Race Series Points Table
1. MAPFRE – 56 points
2. Dongfeng Race Team – 49 points
4. Team Brunel – 41 points
3. team AkzoNobel – 39 points
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 26 points
6. Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag – 21 points
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 17 points