Team Sanya in 1st place after others sail away to capitalize wind
Instead of flying south once clear of the Luzon Strait, a cold front blocking the path to Auckland has forced the fleet to sail a north easterly course away from their destination.
The fleet’s best hope of pointing their bows south towards New Zealand is likely to be northerly winds from a new high pressure system developing over China and forecast to sweep east over the fleet in the next few days.
"We’re hoping we only need to go north for another 60 miles,” CAMPER navigator Will Oxley said. "We know being east is generally better and there are no trade winds right now so we’re using the opportunity to stay in breeze.
"In the short term it’s better to be east and north of the fleet, but in the long term east is where you want to be. We want to maintain our lead.”
"Unfortunately that means tacking upwind and going north, which seems ridiculous and it’s pretty hard to convince people, but all of the models are showing it’s the right thing to do.
While confident of their hold on the fleet, Oxley said once into the reaching conditions in the trades they expected to have to fight to hold off Franck Cammas’ third-placed Groupama sailing team.
"We feel good against Groupama right now but they are very fast reaching and we know we are going to have to be in a different part of the ocean to beat them,” he added. “If we’re in the same piece of the ocean reaching down through the north Pacific the grim reality is they will be about a knot faster.”
Equally confident of their position were Groupama, who were also taking comfort in seeing overall race leaders Team Telefónica relegated to the fifth after a costly decision to briefly head south after passing Taiwan.
"We are glad to see Telefónica there,” Groupama watch captain Charles Caudrelier said. “We aren’t so worried about them because we don’t really see what they could do in the next hours. We are rather satisfied with our position and quite happy to see them away.”
The mood was less than upbeat on Telefónica as they found themselves struggling in lighter breeze than their rivals after their southerly gambit failed.
"We wanted to go east right after the Strait of Luzon but the wind was unstable so we headed south on what we thought was the quicker route,” explained skipper Iker Martínez.
"But after an hour and a half we saw the others in the north had more than 20 knots of wind while we only had light breeze. We tacked back to the north to pick up the same breeze but we lost it quickly.”
"It’s been a tough day for us,” Martínez added. “We see that the others doing well and here we are with little wind. We haven’t been very lucky but I hope that will change. If not, the difference will be too big.”
Ken Read’s sixth placed PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG had managed to re-connect with the fleet around the tip Taiwan but were then forced to the north by the prevailing breezes.
Navigator Tom Addis said the PUMA crew had got little chance to sleep over the last 24 hours but were in good spirits and nervously hoping their northerly investment would pay off.
"We are sailing in about 14 knots of breeze from the east and have a good current with us right now,” Addis said. “We expect to be able to start to head east in the next 24 hours and we want to be the furthest east boat by the time the fleet turns south.
Addis said the crew had been understanding about the call to go north when the finish line lay to the south.
"Everyone here understands the situation and gets that Ken and I have agonised long and hard about the best option to get us to Auckland,” he said.
"We would have liked to have got more north and east like Groupama and CAMPER but we see an opportunity in the north to go east quickly that could set us up for the long run south.
"For sure we are apprehensive. Right now it’s expensive, painful, nerve wracking and all those negative things.
The fleet still has more than 4,500 nautical miles left to sail before reaching the Leg 4 finish line in Auckland, New Zealand.