Ericsson 3 consolidate their lead and set themselves up in a good protecting position

After weeks spent chasing low pressure systems across the Southern Ocean, today (19 March) saw the lead boats in the grip of a high pressure centred to the northeast of the Falkland Islands.

The high – combined with the remnants of a weak low to the south – is throwing off moderate north to northwesterly winds off the coast of Argentina resulting in some tight angles and upwind work for the first four.

Ericsson 3 have consolidated their lead over the past 24 hours and set themselves up in a good protecting position – directly between their pursuers and the finish line.

The leaders all tacked onto port near midnight last night as the wind from the high began to back to the left and stabilise in the north-northwest. With the boats aligned nearly perfectly in a north to south line, this turned out to be pretty convenient for E3 in terms of protecting their position. Even better for the Nordics – it appears that they are enjoying the most westerly breeze of the leaders, allowing them to sail more directly towards the finish.

But for all that, the distance to leader figures have remained pretty unchanged over the past 24 hours. Ericsson 4, in second, has lost just two miles over the past day and seems to have repaired their keel issue. Green Dragon – still in fourth – is similarly close to where they were yesterday at 227 miles behind E3.

The big mover – relatively speaking – has been PUMA. Il mostro has gained 34 miles over the past day, but still sits a discouraging 132 miles behind.

“This is going to be a tricky bit of the race. Each three hour position report is showing huge gains and losses for each of us,” wrote skipper Kenny Read. “Believe me there is a method to the madness, as boats aren’t exactly taking three hours off to rest. The spacing of the boats is proving to have just enough room to create your own little weather situation that can be significantly different from the other boats. Kind of a yo yo effect. Sometimes you are going down on the string, but nearly always you will come back up as well. Objective is to have more ups than downs. At least for il mostro.”

The predicted conditions are not offering a lot of opportunities for Ian Walker and his crew on Green Dragon to break into the top three. But Walker, for one, is still entertaining thoughts of a podium finish.

“The boat and crew are in great shape and able to sail 100% and push hard in the hope that the weather gives us an opportunity to make a move and get on the podium in Rio,” he wrote yesterday. “Finishing this leg will be a great achievement for the whole team but it would be far sweeter if we could get on the podium in Rio.”

Further back, Telefonica Blue is on its final approach to Cape Horn this morning, looking for a rounding early this afternoon. They’ll collect a valuable two scoring points in the process, bringing them back within half a point of second placed PUMA.

“Everyone is getting anxious to round and head back into the Atlantic once more,” reports Simon Fisher from the Blue boat this morning. “The steady monitoring of the distance to waypoint has continued at an increased pace and I think now anyone would be able to tell you how far it is to go within about 20 miles.

That said, our last few hundred miles of the Pacific are proving to be exciting. As if to show us how small we really are the might of the Southern Ocean has whipped up 35 knots for us, more rain, more cold and even a little bit of fog too.”

With less than 1700 miles to go, it is still all to play for.

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