Garside holds 4-mile lead over Van Liew, Yazykov 44-miles back; Konioukhov out of juice.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND: So it comes down to this simple question. After 7,000 miles of racing, after a roaring blast across the Southern Ocean followed by a torturous trek up the Tasman Sea, can Mike Garside hold off Brad Van Liew’s relentless charge with just 100 miles to go? Here are the numbers: At 5:44 a.m. local time today (1544 GMT on the 9th), Garside was 104 miles from the finish line off Rangitoto Island and making 4.5 knots. Perhaps more importantly, his VMG (velocity made good)–his actual speed towards the line–was 3.7 knots. At the same time, Van Liew was 108 miles out and recording 5.3 knots of boat speed and 4.6 knots of VMG. This race is simply too close to call.

Van Liew has not been in front of Garside since they left Cape Town last 5 December. If he passes the Brit sometime today and leads him across the line, upon his arrival the first order of business for Garside’s shore team will be to remove all sharp objects from his immediate vicinity. After an extraordinary start–he was the race’s overall leader the first days out and led fellow Class II skipper J.P. Mouligne for the first two weeks–Garside has had a miserable time of it ever since entering the Tasman Sea a little less than two weeks ago.

Yesterday, Garside sent this message to his support crew: “I can honestly say that the last 11 days of this race have been one of the most dreary, depressing experiences of my whole life. I have spent the endless days and nights creeping forward to my Auckland destination at the pace of a half-dead snail. I have despaired as the yachts ahead of me sped over the horizon with all the wind they needed. I have agonized as the yachts behind me closed up even more quickly. They arrived on a breeze that mocks me. Somehow they have stayed safely out of the way of the high that holds me in its paralyzing grip.” Unfortunately for Garside and Van Liew, they have more to worry about than each other. At the same position update this morning, Viktor Yazykov was just 44 miles in back of Van Liew and making 6.9 knots on both the boat speed and VMG scales. As this stage Yazykov’s greatest enemy is the race course–he may run out of it before he can overtake the others.

Yazykov’s countryman Fedor Konioukhov, sailing the Class I 60-footer Modern University for the Humanities, has been silent for most of the second leg, but early today he relayed a message that bore less than good news: “Good day everybody, this is Fedor from the traverse of the west side of Australia. In the last couple days [I’ve been] faced with the first serious problems since the start of Leg 2. The problem is I can’t start [my] diesel generator and the main engine to start my batteries. There is no sun and my solar batteries are useless. This is really a bad situation for me, I can’t use [my] autopilot and I have to tune my boat by the sails and it is extremely difficult to steer for a long time due to the rough weather.

“I am afraid that my computer gets not enough power,” he went on, “so I presume that in the [next] couple days you will get no signal from my boat through the Inmarsat [Standard-C system]. I will use my Argos beacon more often to let you know that I am okay. Today I spent more than 2 hours in my diesel compartment to fix the problem…but without any luck. Meanwhile, my boat was knocked down. I can tell you that this is unpleasant when you are knocked down in the southern latitudes, but it is triple unpleasant when at the moment you are sitting in the one-square-meter room. Anyway I will try to fix one of the engines. I have 3,000 miles to go. Best regards, Fedor.” Konioukhov, a legend in his homeland who has stood atop Mt. Everest and made repeated expeditions to the North and South Poles, is clearly in a jam. It will take ingenuity, not crampons or skis, to get out of it.