For almost a day the two teams, who lie in first and second overall, have at times been within shouting distance of each other as they head for a likely photo finish at the safe haven port.
With 24 points on offer for first place and 20 for second, whoever gets there first will top the leaderboard ahead of the leg’s second stage into Abu Dhabi.
After exiting the Doldrums in second place Telefónica inexorably ground down CAMPER’s lead, closing to within two nautical miles on Christmas Day. Since then the contest has got even closer with the pair trading the lead several times today.
“[They have been] about four or five boat lengths, 100 metres away,” said Telefónica watch captain, Neal McDonald earlier today. “We have been like that for the last 20 hours.”
The sailors are exhausted, having had little sleep for days on end, but with the overall race lead riding on the result, there is no chance for rest and both crews have everyone awake to coax the maximum speed out of their boats.
At 1300 UTC today and with the breeze having dropped to 7 knots, CAMPER were maintaining their lead, but only just. As darkness fell this evening CAMPER helmsman Adam Minoprio described the intensity of the racing:
“Right now the atmosphere is incredibly tense,” he said. “Telefónica are less than 100 metres behind us and we have everyone up working the boat as hard as we can. The darkness will just serve to ratchet the tension up even more.
“It’s been this close for hours now, in fact for the last few days we have been sailing within in sight of each other almost all the time.
“Tactically it should be straightforward now as we are heading directly towards the finish, but we still need to be very careful and make sure we match their speed and stay between them and the line.”
Meanwhile, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG have moved into third after over hauling Franck Cammas' Groupama sailing team.
“We’ve had a good day and a half and managed to position ourselves so that we managed to get back past Groupama,” said PUMA skipper Ken Read “Now we are feeling good and sailing well and have managed to start to build a margin over the French.”
Read said he was disappointed not to be challenging for the lead and cited a difficult Doldrums crossing as the reason why.
“We didn’t get it right at all and Tom [Addis – navigator] and I have talked long and hard about how we can work on our positioning in those situations in the future.
“For sure there were some frayed nerves on board in the Doldrums but that’s why we have this remarkable team who can deal with setbacks and just move on.”
Groupama had themselves previously held a big lead on the fleet before also falling foul of the Doldrums, as skipper Franck Cammas explained:
"It’s frustrating for us because a few days ago our thoughts were about winning the leg,” he said. “But now I think there is no chance of catching PUMA now and we just have to accept the result.
“This is our first Volvo Ocean Race and we are continually learning. We learn by our mistakes and we have learned a lot that way during this section of the leg. I feel we have improved and we will come back stronger in the second part of the leg."
Having struggled to re-engage with the fleet in the Doldrums Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing lies in fifth, around 110 nautical miles adrift of the leaders.
“It was a tough leg for us once we split from the fleet in the Southern Ocean section,” said Media Crew Member (MCM) Nick Dana. “Each team was sailing very well and it seemed as if we were always just falling off the systems that were carrying the leaders ahead.
“In the end we had one last go at the leaders, making up a massive amount a miles in a matter of 24 hours coming into the Doldrums. But again, the fleet was sailing very consistently and each managed to protect their lead on us.
“Now we are looking forward to part B of the journey, and getting home to Abu Dhabi.”
On CAMPER, MCM Hamish Hooper said he expected the close tussle with Telefónica to go on all the way to the finish line tonight.
“It will be full on, close quarters, neck and neck, all guns blazing racing all the way down to the wire.
“I think most of the guys will pretty much collapse once we cross the finish line. But that’s OK - they can sleep as long as they want after that, but believe me they will be doing everything possible to make sure they will be sleeping contently having crossed the finish line first.”