Dramatic endgame anticipated as most of the fleet race within sight of each other

With under 24 hours to go until the finish of the BT Global Challenge in Southampton, the racing in the fleet is tighter than it has ever been. John Read’s Team SpirIT continues to lead by 15 miles – a handsome margin in this context. Behind them, Norwich Union and LG FLATRON are tied in 2nd place. Close astern, seven more crews are separated by only 12 miles, with only Save the Children and Isle of Man trailing the pack.

Technically, the fleet completed its circumnavigation yesterday when the crews crossed their outward track off the UK south coast, but with only two or three miles between most yachts, overall results are still very much to play for. The final hours will be as tense as the fleet is sent on short legs around the Channel and south of the Isle of Wight to delay their entrance to the Solent.

Course changes are being revised as they go along and will give the yachts a variety of beating and reaching, with every chance that places will change up the dying minutes. The real purpose of this elaborate stage management, though, is to make sure that the leader finishes in Southampton Water as close as possible to 1400 tomorrow.

John Read and his crew on Team Spirit have lead since early in this leg, and will be trying to cover yachts behind to preserve their position. They have never had a podium place. Current overall leaders LG FLATRON pose a threat, having moved up to 2nd place. Compaq is the only yacht that can rob them of their win, and with her some miles behind, LG FLATRON has the upper hand and may decide to switch from a defensive game to an attack for a fourth leg win.

Almost every stage of the race so far has seen places settled within minutes – and twice by as little as a boatlength. The finale looks as if it will be no different. Expect to see yachts skirmishing to the last and places gained or lost within sight of the line. In anticipation of it, Will Oxley and his crew on Compaq have been perfecting their manoeuvres. “One watch was doing gybes perfectly, but with the other it wasn’t perfect, so we’ve gone right back to fundamentals and put it back together,” he told us in La Rochelle. “My argument is that this race will go to the wire and it might come down to one gybe.”

The leaders are expected to reach the Needles at about 0930 BST tomorrow and will have to fight the tide to get through Hurst Narrows at about 1030. If all goes according to plan, the winner will cross the line at 1400 and be alongside at Ocean Village half an hour later.

A race village with bands and entertainment will by then be in full swing for the homecoming.