“We’re 5° South, in the tropics,” explains Team Alvimedica’s Seb Marsset, generous slapping sun cream on his face and neck.

“It’s really sunny and really warm. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll literally burn within minutes.”

It’s Day 7 of Leg 6 – and the weather’s not the only thing causing these sailors to sweat. Nope, the racing is hotting up too.

“We’ve finally got moving!” says Justin Slattery, on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

“Some nice sailing actually – it’s nice to get the boat over 20 knots, blow the cobwebs off. Hopefully it continues for a while more.”

He scans the horizon for sails. “We need a another 15-20 miles to get us back in the game.”

Yesterday, the Emirati boat sat in last position in the fleet – but they’ve overtaken homecoming heroes Team Alvimedica, and are now less than 20nm behind leaders Dongfeng. The orange boat is 3nm behind.

“There’s been some big convection overnight and when these clouds dump their air out in the early morning then you can get a good push if you’re on the right side of it,” points out navigator Simon Fisher.

“You get good wind, more wind, and often, depending on where you are, a good shift as well. But if you’re on the windward side when it’s dumping, because the winds are opposing, you get less wind.”
Seven miles back, Team SCA’s Dee Caffari is on the lookout for the golden sails of Azzam.

The tropical rain is falling hard, and the girls are taking the opportunity to shampoo their hair whilst it lasts.

“Sunrise has brought some showers,” she laughs. “Abu Dhabi are just seven miles over there, the leaders are only 21 miles ahead, and the next ones 11.

“We feel like we’ve compacted again which has lifted the spirits onboard – we’re definitely enjoying it.”

The squall passes as quickly as it came, and skipper Sam Davies certainly wears a big smile as she pokes her head up onto the deck – the warmth of the morning sun drenching her skin.

“Had a nice wake up – second fastest boat on the last sked – so were happy with that,” she beams. “We’ve passed the coast of Brazil, which seems to have gone on forever!”

According to Race Meteorologist Gonzalo Infante, there are a couple of options on the table for the teams right now.

“It is quite exciting,” he says. “We are about to get into the northern hemisphere, and we all want to think about long-term strategy, east or west?

“We are in a transition area, and not just because it’s the Doldrums. It’s because you have the Equatorial current flowing fast close to the coast.

He continues. “The big dilemma right now is inshore versus offshore. The argument for staying inshore is that there’s a river flowing at between 1.5 and 2.5 knots, which can give you a push. The negative is that there’s less wind.

“If you stay offshore, there is more wind, but you’ll also have a better angle for the northeast trades. So you lose the current, but you’re pointing straight at the destination.

“Will anyone stay inshore? I don’t know. We know that Team SCA have a fragile FR0 sail. It’s an option on the table for them – but it’s high stakes.”

On Team Brunel, Rokas Milevicious has the binoculars out – and can’t take his eyes of the horizon.

“A red boat with the name MAPFRE,” he notes, as the Spaniards come into view. “I’m looking at what set-up they have on the sails.”

“Okay, now they’ve just hoisted!” he shouts across deck, at skipper Bouwe Bekking on the helm.

“He’s got six million dollar eyes,” laughs the Dutchman.

In a race this close, every second, every sail change, every spy mission counts.

“It’s a drag race – it feels like we’re finding the sweet spot on the boat,” says Jens Dolmer.

Link: VOR