Xabi Ferndandez Andrew Cape and Iker Martinez check out the weather – Diego Fructuoso, Telefonica pic  
The final 1,000 nautical mile stretch of Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race to Auckland is proving to be a see-saw ride with small gains and miserable losses spreading across the five boats chasing clear leaders Groupama, and the standout is Telefonica, which is now threatening to take second place, racing at 17 plus knots to everyone else’s 14’s and 15’s.

Although the runway to the Auckland finish is becoming shorter by the minute, and while there seems to be no stopping the French at present, Groupama 4’s skipper Franck Cammas is cautious.

"It’s far from being a highway until the finish line,” he remarked. “In two days’ time we will have to deal with a transition to light airs and we will be upwind for 400 miles until the north of New Zealand.”

At 1600 UTC today, Groupama 4 was over 130nm ahead of Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg (Ken Read/USA) which had been in a light wind patch and lost 23 miles.

With uncertain forecasts ahead, the race is now to North Cape at the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island and it is hard for the crews to think beyond that, such is the intensity in the fleet.

Groupama’s substantial lead places the French team in a different weather pattern from the chasing five teams, which could have its disadvantages. “Being in front, we might enter a light wind area while the boats behind would come back," said Cammas. "We will have to make the most out of our 100-mile lead."

Meanwhile, Puma’s crew are concentrating on holding off the challenge from Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) — winners of the first three legs — and Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS), sailing with seven New Zealanders all anxious to be first into their home port.

"There’s not much chance of catching Groupama in the near future because they are over 100nm straight ahead," Puma watch captain, Tony Mutter, granted.

"We hope there is a parking lot, but at the moment, they’re in a very strong position. We have 80 per cent of our focus on Telefónica and Camper, while the other 20 per cent is on the last section and maybe being able to pounce on first place."

Camper navigator Will Oxley is trying to ensure his team remain ahead of Ian Walker’s fifth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

"I think they [Abu Dhabi] will definitely close in," Oxley said. "There is so much separation between us and it seems like we’re ahead, but we’re only just gaining a bit of bearing on them. I think it will end up being pretty close."

At 1900 UTC today, Groupama had further extended its lead. It is now 138.20nm ahead of Puma, which lost three nautical miles in the last three hours. The rest of the fleet made small gains, though the split is now wide. Camper and Abu Dhabi are over 200nm behind, and Team Sanya is languishing 393nm in arrears.

After a night when it was possible to see Venus and Mars, as well as the Southern Cross, another day of gains and losses dawns for the fleet as they press on towards North Cape.
SOURCE: yachte.com

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