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Volvo Ocean Race: No room to breathe for Abu Dhabi

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The lead, which Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) has built up in Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal, is approaching the critical time, with just 467 nautical miles to run to the finish. Will it be enough of a buffer to hold off PUMA Ocean Racing powered by Berg (Ken Read/USA) and Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA), both of whom have a shot at winning the race overall?

In the three-hour period to 0700 GMT today, PUMA had reeled in another six miles to close to within 22 nm, while Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) had taken eight miles to lie just three miles astern of Ken Read and his PUMA crew.

On the upside, Ian Walker and his men have seen the breeze drop and head, which has allowed them to sail a slightly lower and faster course. “Hopefully, our tighter angle can give us an advantage,” commented bowman Wade Morgan. But although the team morale still burns strong, navigator Jules Salter and skipper Ian Walker have been analysing performance and weather updates nonstop according to Media Crew Member Nick Dana. “It feels like we are being chased by a pack of dogs, and one cat,” he said today.

By midnight tonight, the fleet is expecting to be becalmed in a ridge off Portugal’s coast and Thursday will be tortuous. “Should make for some nail-biting hours in the sun,” said Abu Dhabi helmsman/trimmer Anthony Nossiter, as the crew prepared for what could be a ‘mind-bending’ experience in the last few miles to the finish.

A slow day yesterday led the crew of second-placed PUMA to re-appraise the setup of the boat, dropping the daggerboard lower, putting water back in the stern ballast and changing staysail combinations. “Thankfully the boat responded,” wrote MCM Amory Ross today. The team, who is looking for its third consecutive win, is more concerned with their nearest rivals for the overall lead; Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS). “There is more to lose against them than there is to gain against Abu Dhabi,” explained Ross today.

Meanwhile, the crew of CAMPER are smarting about their fifth position, having a tough time against Groupama and Telefónica who are now ahead of them. “These hard reaching conditions are right in their sweet spot,” said MCM Hamish Hooper. “They are like rockets in this stuff. Unfortunately for us, we are quite the opposite. It’s our Achilles heel and, as a result, we are bleeding miles, unable to stop them,” he added. “It feels wrong for us to still end up in the fifth spot, so we need to pull something out of the bag,” declared skipper Chris Nicholson.

Mike Sanderson and Team Sanya are still in touch and sailing fast enough to take six miles out of the lead. Although in sixth position, they are now within 60 nm of the lead and planning to try to ride the front for as long as they can.

With the breeze progressively easing between noon today and midnight tonight, the leading boat is expected to cross the finish in Lisbon late on Thursday night.