It will have been a massively stressful 24 hours for the leading pair on Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race to Auckland, New Zealand. As team AkzoNobel and Scallywag bumped up against an area of calm, those chasing were enjoying 10 to 15 knots of wind and making impressive gains. In fact, the distance from first to last has nearly been halved in 24 hours.
But the last two position reports have been kinder to the leaders, who have managed to hold their nerve and even extend a few miles again. But not before some uncomfortable moments on board.
“It’s a bit stressful when you can feel the hot breath from the other boats breathing down your neck,” said Annemieke Bes from Scallywag. “But I think we’ve managed to come out the other side. It’s a big relief.”
Her skipper, David Witt, sitting beside her on deck, admitted, “I was throwing all my toys out of the pram,” as the trailing boats closed the gap.
“This is normal,” Bes laughed.
At the back of the fleet, the reaction to the big gains made over the past 24 hours was relatively muted, in consideration of how much work is still left to do.
“We had been gaining big chunks on each sked,” said MAPFRE’s Blair Tuke. “But the last ones haven’t been as good for us. We had a big cloud and both ourselves and Dongfeng had to sail around it. We were still moving, but not towards the finish line, so the (leading boats) gained on us. It’s stretched out again to around (90 miles). That’s better than 300 miles, but...”
The good news for the trailing boats is that there is still a long way to go.
The navigators are talking about a band of light and variable conditions that stretch ahead for over 400 miles. If that scenario comes to pass, there will be many more nervous moments, and many more opportunities for a shake up in the rankings.
"We're still going through a lot of clouds," cautioned AkzoNobel's Martine Grael, whose team continues to duel for the lead with Scallywag, and now Team Brunel as well, who have worked hard to push into the leading pair.
"We can still have a park up where everybody catches us… You just have to deal with it. It's part of the race."
The psychological pressure is on. If only the wind would match it.