The iconic Vanuatu is 200 nautical miles away, Auckland’s finish line less than a week from now. All six boats are within 60nm of each other.
What’s not to love?
Well, ask Rokas Milevicius, for once. For Team Brunel’s young Lithuanian, this Pacific sprint has been “a tragedy.” After being in the lead for eight days, his team ran into a couple of bad clouds and wind holes yesterday night, falling to fifth place.
“From the penthouse to the shit-house,” said Bouwe Bekking with a bitter laugh as he asked his guys to gybe and head east, where the rest of the pack found a windier area.
“We had to, otherwise we’d be last. Now we are close behind in the queue and we have every chance.”
Others loved it, though. With boat speeds just below 20 knots and the ideal angle to sail a fast reaching to New Zealand, it’s a wet, fun blast onboard.
The boats are powerful – most have up to four sails up – and the helmsmen are barely hanging onto the wheel, surfing down the blue waves. Decks are white with water, faces red from the sun.
“It’s Sunday, we’ve been two weeks at sea now and everything is good,” smiles Xabi Fernández, clinging on to MAPFRE’s grinder.
The team’s skipper in Iker Martínez’s absence, he points out another red boat, couple of lengths to leeward.
“We’ve been sailing two or three miles away from Dongfeng for a couple of days now. We’re more or less doing the same speed. In fact, everyone has been sailing really close from each other.”
And that’s what could save Brunel and Team SCA, at the back of the fleet. A big wind shift is coming up from the east and with such tight racing, whoever crosses this next light patch well will be in a strong position.
“We have to get this one right as time is running out to get to Auckland,” wrote Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Ian Walker, now in the lead. “It’s turning into a fantastic race and with light winds forecast for the end, it will surely be a nail biter.”
But before that, there is more breeze to enjoy, there are more waves to surf. Just like Xabi does, leaving the grinder for the helm, grabbing the wheel in 25 knots of wind.
“Yippee!” shouts the Spaniard.
And the boat dives, accelerates, and bounces off the next wave.