At 1900 tonight Groupama 4 was just 1.4 nm astern of Abu Dhabi's Azzam as the two teams jostled for position in an unstable band of pressure, which was making it impossible for them to lay the entrance to the River Tagus. Groupama were making one knot faster than Emiratis.
It has been a tortuous time for Ian Walker and the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who are aiming for a first offshore podium of the race so far. Since they powered to the front on May 26, the Emiratis have been constantly under the threat of attack from the rest of the fleet, as the weather filled in from behind, bringing the fleet close enough to ruffle Azzam’s feathers on many occasions. Today has been no different and is leading to a nail-biting conclusion later tonight.
Ahead lies the River Tagus, which the six-boat fleet will have to negotiate under the cover of darkness in order to reach the finish set off Lisbon harbour entrance. There are 10 miles or so of coastal approach before the fleet makes the turn into the river entrance, from where the finish lies approximately five miles.
It could be that this is five miles of an adverse ebb current running at up to four knots. It’s low water at midnight, with the ebb flow between 0200 and 0500 GMT. How sickening would it be to lose the race in the dying stages, but this is a very real possibility and Ian Walker and his team will not rest until they are safely across the finish. Nor will Franck Cammas and his crew, who will also be hoping that Telefónica finish well down the order.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) are 18.9 nm behind the leader, but have a reasonable buffer of 12.3 nm from CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) in fourth. Telefónica is poised to mount a challenge on CAMPER from just five miles behind. On Telefónica’s tail is Sanya with Mike Sanderson/NZL, who although 73 nm off the lead, still may be able to shake up the order tonight.