Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica have been engaged in a day-long drag race for the lead, as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet rapidly approach the tactical nightmare of the Doldrums.
Remarkably, after nine days and approaching 2,000 nautical miles of racing, there was virtually nothing to choose between the two leading boats.
Read had held a tenuous three-mile advantage at the 1000 UTC position report today, a margin which as the breeze ramped up steadily from 15 to 20 knots during the day, Martínez steadily ground down to zero.
By the 1300 UTC report, Team Telefónica were ahead — but by a just half a nautical mile.
Unwilling to be broken by the Spanish charge, Read urged his American crew into a fight back with the 1600 UTC showing that in the previous three hours PUMA had matched Telefónica almost identically mile-for-mile.
With the battle for the lead so close, both teams were focusing in on achieving the fastest possible transition through the Doldrums, which they were expected to reach around midnight UTC.
On board PUMA however, Read acknowledged that it was looking increasingly likely that the Spanish crews’ positioning would give them the lead into the Doldrums.
“Telefónica have a little better angle coming in right now,” he said. “Over the last few days they have eaten away at our lead and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually first into the Doldrums. We’re a little frustrated because we really liked our line and Telefónica’s line is proving to be a little better right now.”
By 1700 UTC both boats had slowed to just below 20 knots and Telefónica had pulled out a lead of almost five nautical miles.
Telefónica’s navigator, Andrew Cape said that given the fact that they had taken and lost the lead several times previously on this leg, there had been little celebration on board when they overtook PUMA.
“We have positioned ourselves a little further to the west and we are very happy with the way that is working out. But we will have to see. It is so close. We expect to be very much together with PUMA when we reach the Doldrums.”
At the 1900 UTC position report, PUMA had pulled back a single mile on Telefónica and extended their lead on third place CAMPER with Emirates team New Zealand to 160 nautical miles, with fourth placed Groupama were a further 180 miles adrift.