Current race leaders Groupama are desperate strengthen their grip on overall honours by winning this sprint leg, which is set to conclude in their home port of Lorient on Friday. Meanwhile, Telefónica are determined to pull off another leg win, their first since their hat-trick of victories in the first three legs.
As the fleet rounds the Azores Island of São Miguel, the weather is set to complicate matters, and could well bring the rest of the fleet into play as the breeze fades and the fleet races upwind before turning towards France and the downwind sleigh ride that awaits.
Already the fleet has entered the high pressure system. The exit from the light wind area and the entry into the new low pressure system will be critical. Sailing close to the centre of the depression will produce testing conditions with potentially 40 knots of wind and huge seas. “No doubt we will all see high speeds, but keeping it all together might be what wins you the leg,” remarked Nick Dana, Media Crew Member with fourth-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR).
Although the depression could easily produce conditions capable of ending a leg in pieces, and managing the speed of the boat is key, the chasing pack are looking forward to the chance to take on the leaders in conditions more suited to the non-Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed boats in the fleet. “We just have to focus on keeping up enough with the leaders so that we can make it back on the run later on,” said Walker.
For the past day or so, Abu Dhabi have been protecting the margin between themselves and fifth-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS).
“It sucks,” said a disgruntled CAMPER co-skipper Stu Bannatyne, whose team is fed up with constantly being slower and bleeding miles almost constantly. “We have just got to hang in for another day and then we have light air and the chance to get back at the fleet,” Bannatyne said.
For Ken Read and his men on board third-placed PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, it is a question of keeping in touch with the leading duo in reaching conditions which PUMA has always struggled with. They too are looking forward to the wind easing today and the chance to make up ground on the two boats they need to beat to keep them in contention for the overall lead, the closest it has ever been in the 39-year history of the race.
Already boat speeds have dropped to a more manageable 12-13 knots, the fire hose has been turned off temporarily and the crews have been able to rest, eat and mentally prepare for the final push to France in conditions which could produce some of the most testing in the race.
At 0700 GMT today, with 131 nm to go to the Azores turning point, the first three boats were separated by 2.6 nm. Abu Dhabi were 10.1 nm off the lead, with CAMPER just 3.4 nm astern. Mike Sanderson and Sanya were taking a more southerly approach and were 31.7 behind.