It's close enough at the front right now to be less about strategic planning and more about new boats v old boats

Who will come out on top at the end of Atlantic Gate 1 and the road to Gough Island? Current course headings have the lead boats passing sometime on the evening of Monday 23 January.

As it stands at the moment there is little difference between the faster, longer route that Foncia and Virbac are committed to sailing in the west (down the Brazilian coast) and the more direct, shorter, but problematic course which leaders Estrella Damm are sailing.

It is close enough that it could be less about strategy and more about how much quicker the new generation Foncia against the older Farr designed Estrella Damm. It could be down to how much time the Spanish duo actually spend sailing very slowly in the variable winds, which they will suffer for 36-48 hours as they negotiate a little high pressure cell and then a small almost stationary, cut off low one after the other.

Those 48 hours are going to be tough on the leading duo – a lot of sail changes and a lot of stress. While to their west it is relatively simple for Foncia and Virbac who will be pressed close to the coast, mostly fast downwind, having to make occasional gybes down to the latitude of Rio or just beyond. There will always be more wind pressure on the coast, though things should improve from Wednesday 19 January for Estrella Damm.

There is still a real prospect of compression at the Gate. For example, Hugo Boss and FMC are sailing low, westerly courses looking to maximise boatspeed. However, they have only one good option which looks to the be a more direct course down to the west side of the, by then, well established Saint Helena anticyclone. So they should save considerable miles sailed on the leading group.

And so too the chasing pack – Groupe Bel and Mirabaud – who look at the moment to be sailing into a better organized situation than the lead boat. But the rewards for being down there in the top group are well documented – prime position for the first slingshot west.

Meantime, where’s Mapfre? (Mapfre became the first team ever to use ‘Ghost Mode’ in the Barcelona World Race. This allows the duo not to have their positions published through any six consecutive full rankings.)

Tonight (Monday 17 January) is the big reveal.

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