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Volvo Race - Leaders on fast track for Melbourne

The lesson has been clear, stay south, stay close to the Ice Exclusion Zone. MAPFRE did just that, overhauled Dongfeng and now has a 33 nm lead.MAPFRE -

On Thursday (day12), in 12 hours of sailing early in the day MAPFRE gybed 16 times, compared to just eight on Dongfeng.

They were doing twice the amount of work – and given the amount of time it takes to shift the gear, set up and complete a gybe, the whole crew will have had very little rest.

Now they do have the chance to rest as there’s a lot of straight-line sailing coming up.

MAPFRE skipper, Xabi Fernandez looks to have played a blinder here, pushing his crew really hard at the crucial moment to gain what could become an unassailable lead.

Behind the two leaders, it’s a tale of continued losses, and it’s hard to see where the bleeding stops.

From 12:00 UTC Thursday, we can see the reason for the latest round of losses. The leaders are clear of the IEZ, and able to push south into the big breeze of the low pressure system.

Positions at 18:36 Thursday - Click image for a larger image

While all the way back down the fleet the wind drops as they get closer to the high pressure sitting to their north and west.

The predictions are suggesting that the three leaders gybe around 02:00 UTC on the Friday, and sail for a little less than a day, when they can gybe again and straight-line into the finish.

At the predicted finish time for MAPFRE and Dongfeng in Melbourne on the 24 December, the high moves back to the south-east and blocks the route into Melbourne with light air.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Team Brunel will maybe just sneak in as well, but for the rest the pain just gets worse . . . unless . . .

If one or both of the leaders do hold on in the south – waiting for another 24-36 hours before they gybe – then it does open a potential passing lane for the boats immediately behind them.

They might take a chance on the western route and see if they can make a big play right before the finish. Watch this space.

Mark Chisnell (abridged strategic review)

Volvo Ocean race - Leg 3 - Friday 22 December @ 07:00 UTC

1. MAPFRE -- distance to finish -- 942 nautical miles
2. Dongfeng Race Team +33 nm - Now in Stealth mode
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing +153 nm
4. Team Brunel +174 nm
5. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag +329 nm
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic +427 nm
7. team AkzoNobel +685 nm

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