As the conditions build for the leading multihulls pushing hard upwind on route to the Ascensions, so does the tension – and the potential to damage the boat.

As the conditions build for the leading multihulls pushing hard upwind on route to the Ascensions, so does the tension – and the potential to damage the boat. Meanwhile the top tri’s ETA at the mark is during tonight. The leading monohulls are stuck in the Doldrums. Ecover continues to eat into Sill’s lead but Casto-Darty-BUT are hot on their heels just two miles behind.

Kingfisher-Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur) continues to match Groupama (Cammas/S. Ravussin) move for move in the tacking battle, and is controlling their rival by placing themselves between them and the mark to the Southeast. Their speeds in these conditions are still remarkable – 17 knots average in the last 6 hours, and they expect to round the mark during the night.

A dispirited Michel Desjoyeaux revealed Belgacom’s ‘break at the seams’. “We were on starboard in 18 knots of wind under main & staysail banging into the waves, and had just decided to launch an attack on the leaders,” he explained. “Suddenly all the main sheet travellers slid right along the stern track and snapped. We spent two hours fixing up a jury rig and we can’t go shopping for the spare parts!” A serious handicap, unable to play the mainsail in the building breeze, and have slowed to 12 knots.

The other astonishing news of the day comes from Fujifilm (L. Peyron/Le Mignon). They stuck to the normally slower but direct route in the East through the light airs of the Doldrums, and last night revved back up to 16 knots and into 3rd place. They are heading straight to the mark, Peyron “hoping that the wind won’t shift one fraction of a degree”, whilst the Westerly boats Belgacom & Banque Populaire (Roucayrol/Parlier) have had to put in losing tacks to the East to reach the islands.

During the next 12 hours of stress, tiredness, wetness, tactics and manoeuvres leading up to the Ascension Islands, every skipper will be nervously watching each other’s progress, knowing only too well that the outcome of this mark rounding could be definitive.

In the monohull fleet, Golding and Hutchinson (Ecover) are still pushing hard and have shot back up to 2nd place now 75 miles behind leader Sill Plein Fruit (Jourdain/Le Cleac’h). “We took a very good option two days ago to re-position ourselves to the West, which meant that passing Cape Verde we didn’t lose the wind and were able to pass the others,” explained co-skipper Hutchinson. “Also we wanted to be in the West to cross the Doldrums.”

Ecover has covered the greatest distance in the last 24 hours, 283 miles, and are being hotly pursued by Casto-Darty-BUT (Moloney/Turner) within 2 miles of them, both to the West of the rum line. Both teams actually saw the navigation lights of the other as they crossed paths last night – incredible after 3,000 miles of ocean racing. Sill, however, made an intelligent move to the West, even if it sacrificed some of their lead, to remain in control of their opposition, and have left them no option but to follow in their wake.

The spell has been broken, as today the Open 50 fleet leader changes hands, the newer Saving (Le Youdec/Bacave) a few miles nearer to the rum line in their West than One Dream One Mission (Bennett/Larsen), as they too battle with the Doldrums’ effects. “It doesn’t matter that Saving may be a faster boat in a straight line, it’s all about how hard you push your boat. We’re working flat out, even trimming sails at 3am,” exhorts the young skipper Alex Bennett. “We’re feeling the pinch of fatigue, but know how important it is to get rest as well. These boats are man-eaters though!”