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Volvo Ocean Race: Solomon Islands separation

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An exciting day lies ahead for the six boats racing to Auckland in Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Although Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas/FRA) retain a solid lead over PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) who are well positioned in the east, further back in the field, a clear split has developed as three boats peel off to the west to take their chances.

While the leaders head for the eastern tip of the Solomon Islands, the westerly trio of Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) have been forced to alter their Solomon Islands strategy and sail straight through the archipelago.

Although yesterday Nicholson insisted splitting from the fleet was a gamble he was not prepared to take, an unexpected wind shift has now made any other option impossible.

The choice of clawing upwind to reach the lines of Groupama, PUMA and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) in the east would lead to a considerable loss of miles.

Although the split trio are able to sail faster and lower than those in the east, they will face uncharted passages, mystery currents and fickle winds in the Solomon Islands.

“Having made the decision to go through the Solomon Islands and a westerly option through the Coral Sea, we now have to tough it out and stick to our guns. There are no half-measures now,” said CAMPER’s navigator Will Oxley this morning.

Meanwhile, Groupama and PUMA trade miles every three hours or so. At 0700 today, the French had an 87 nautical mile (nm) buffer over PUMA in second, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the third member of the easterly pack was 145 nm adrift. All but Team Sanya had lost miles.

At 1000 UTC today, Groupama had pulled out another two miles from PUMA, as the entire fleet lost out again. CAMPER’s speed however, was top of the league at 16.5 knots average over the preceding three hours. Telefónica was leading the westerly boats, with around 64 nm to run before arriving at the strait between Choiseul and Santa Isabel Island, with CAMPER 45 nm directly astern.

“It’s no longer about risk versus reward, or ‘rolling the dice’, or any of the other catch ways to spin it; both sides are fully committed and there are no trading places,” wrote Amory Ross, media crew member with PUMA. “This has been a long leg, a gruelling, confusing, punishing leg, but it has been full of moments like this, that make you wonder how is it all going to play out?” he added.