PUMA had clung to their lead for the first 18 hours of the 4,800-mile leg but by 1300 UTC on Monday CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand occupied the top spot due to their position to the north west of their rivals, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing just 0.4 miles behind in second.
The leading pair appeared similarly matched in the favourable downwind conditions since the start of the leg on Sunday, but competition for the number one position remained fierce with the five boats split by just 10 miles.
“We’ve probably been in a 200-metre radius of Abu Dhabi for six hours,” CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said. “We’re dead equal speed with those guys. We’ve traded places about five times so it’s good.”
The intense racing was a welcome return for the crew of Abu Dhabi, whose yacht Azzam arrived in Itajaí on a container ship just three days before the leg start.
“It has to be said that we are only out here thanks to the hard work of our shore team both logistically and with the all important repair work,” skipper Ian Walker said. “We desperately want to do well in this leg as a thank you to those guys and girls for all their effort and skill.
“For now we are just happy to be out here and racing boats alongside us for a change.”
With morale high on PUMA after a win in Leg 5, skipper Ken Read said Leg 6 was all about scoring maximum points to shoot them up the overall leaderboard from their current fourth position, 32 points behind race leaders Team Telefónica.
“It’s important to us in the overall standings,” he said. “We have a bit of momentum right now. We have to first try to get back on the podium and then try and chip away at the leaders.”
Around 15 miles south-east of CAMPER, Telefónica and Groupama were making their bid for the front spot in fast conditions that suit their Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed boats.
Despite being knocked off the top spot in the leg rankings, Read said he was happy with his boat’s position against his rivals on either side.
“I think we’d rather be a little bit up higher at the moment but all in all we’re very pleased,” he added. "Telefónica and Groupama are both very fast in this tight reaching stuff, so to be able to hold the height like they have is always pretty special.
“Those two boats, for some reason, seem to have a little edge over us in this tight reaching. We’re OK with our first night, but we probably rather be a little further east and just wave a magic wand.”
Despite the perfect conditions of the opening night with a south-easterly breeze pushing the boats along at speeds of up to 20 knots, winds are set to turn light over the next 24 hours.
Volvo Ocean Race chief meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said the next few days could prove crucial as the teams race to be the first to the trade winds, currently around three days’ sailing away.
“It is going to get very tricky for the teams as the wind slowly dies,” he said. “The door to the trade winds has been firmly shut by a cold front blocking the path.
“There are going to be a lot of transitions to make over the coming days in the race to the trades.”
Leg 6 is expected to take around 14 days to complete.