Race leader Safran is this morning within sight of land, but the last few miles towards the Strait of Gibraltar, the gateway to the Mediterranean, is proving far from easy.

The boats are now sailing upwind, slogging their way into 25-30 knots, but worse, the wind is set to increase to gale force as it funnels through the Strait where there is the additional issue of it being ‘wind against tide’, the easterly wind kicking up the eastbound current making the sea sharp and turbulent.

Plus, competitors are obliged to comply with the ‘Traffic Separation Scheme’ (TSS) in the Strait. To prevent collisions in the Strait, maritime traffic is separated into ‘shipping lanes’, much like a motorway. Eastbound traffic is restricted to the southerly lane, and westbound to the northern one. So as sailing yachts the IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Barcelona Race fleet is obliged either to follow the eastbound lane or they can tack up a narrow mile-wide strip of water between the Spanish shore and the northern edge of the westbound shipping lane.

The weather forecast indicates that the wind will be lighter in the north of the Strait and at present it appears that Safran is heading towards the narrow northerly strip.

With Safran now sailing upwind so the boats behind have once again been able to close on her. Second placed Hugo Boss’ deficit is down from 69 miles at 17:30 UTC to 33 miles at 05:30 this morning. Over the same period Team Neutrogena has made a similar recovery on Hugo Boss, from being 45 miles astern of her to 15.9 miles behind, while GAES has recovered 55 miles on the race leader, her deficit now down to 130 miles.

Safran’s ETA off Tarifa, at the entrance to the Strait, is at 08:30-09:30 UTC. She will be followed by Hugo Boss at around 13:30 UTC, Team Neutrogena at around 15:00 and GAES at around midnight.

It will be interesting to see if the Spanish skippers, Pepe Ribes on Hugo Boss and Guillermo Altadill on Neutrogena, who will have better knowledge of the Strait’s intricacies, will try any different tactics.

ALERT!!! Last night, at around 02hrs (French time) Guillemot fell and suffered a serious blow during a manoeuver on the bow in about 35-40 knots of wind. He has probably broken some ribs. He is complaining of severe pain. The two sailors decided to head to Cadiz in order to make a more complete medical diagnosis.

The duo had made a good start to the race and were in the lead a few miles from the Strait of Gibraltar. Safran is currently 20 miles from Cadiz. The race office is putting in place the necessary logistics to accommodate the skippers and boat in the best conditions in Cadiz.