At the turning mark, less than an hour separated the first five teams who are now clear of São Miguel and pointing north east, while Sanya and Mike Sanderson were just off the northern tip of the island. Supporters from the islands turned out at dawn, hollering and cheering as the teams sailed through the archipelago.
According to Hamish Hooper, Media Crew Member with fourth-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS), things will only become more interesting and more intense over the next 24 hours as the barometer drops and the wind builds to some very strong gales.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s navigator Jules Salter says that as much as 45 knots of wind is possible as the fleet nears the centre of the depression which is sweeping across their path. “Unfortunately, the way in which the storm is moving right now, it will be difficult to get to where we are trying to go without seeing some exceptionally heinous conditions,” he said.
It will be Thursday before the fleet is in the thick of the low, which could produce conditions not seen since the Southern Ocean on Leg 5, which saw five of the six-boat fleet suffer serious damage.
Holding it together will be key for the top four still in contention for overall honours, and while Telefónica, Groupama, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) and CAMPER will be less inclined to take risks, Abu Dhabi and Sanya, who are clearly out of the frame for an overall win, will, perhaps, be braver. “It’s about time we got some real smoking downwind conditions – this should be quite a finish into France,” remarked Abu Dhabi’s watch leader Craig Satterthwaite.
At 0700 GMT today, in a building breeze, Telefónica led Groupama by 0.8 nm, with PUMA just 1.8 nm behind the leader. Still well in touch, 6.7 nm behind the Spanish team were CAMPER, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were a further six miles astern. Speeds were already back up to 16.6 knots for the leaders, while Sanya, who were 22 nm behind and still trying to get clear of the island, were only managing 13 knots.
“Everyone is getting ready for one last push," said PUMA MCM Amory Ross. "We know it will be tough, tiring, wet and wild, but it’s only for a few days and they will be some of our last, so bring it on. What would a leg of this race be without some extremely uncomfortable sailing?"