Last 24 hours sees windspeeds go from 0 to 20 in seconds - going 360 degrees around the compass

Six boats remain racing towards Qingdao – some 700 miles away for leading boat Telefonica Blue. Bouwe Bekking and his men have faced what he called ‘tricky’ conditions overnight, to emerge this morning with a lead of 54 miles – about seven miles less than it was 24 hours ago.

“A very tricky night,” he reported from on board, about 40 miles south of the northern tip of Taiwan. “Windspeeds from 0 to 20 knots in a matter of seconds, going 360 around the compass, plus it was pitch dark…Lots of sail changes, which means all hands on deck, so no time to catch up on a full three hour rest. You can see the guys are worn out, but no complaints; they wake up, stumble on deck, do their work and crash out down below again, hoping not to be woken up again.”
Bekking says he hopes conditions will stabilise somewhat when the team clears the northern tip of Taiwan later this morning.

Behind them, the two Ericsson boats continue to jostle for second position. Ericsson 4 has had a strong 24 hours, making up a full 26 miles over the past day on their stablemates.

With one eye on the overall leaderboard, race leader Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael will be determined not to allow second-placed Telefonica Blue to close the gap by more than the minimum. If he’s unable to catch Telefonica Blue, by overhauling his teammates and finishing in second place he will have only sacrificed one point of his overall lead. Of course, there’s plenty of sailing left before the points are assigned and counted.

But Ericsson 4 media crewmember Guy Salter explained the strategic thinking over the past few days on board his boat as the team grappled with the heinous conditions. It’s clear the Ericsson 4 crew is taking the long view.

“We hung back waiting for the breeze to subside enough before setting off for the Luzon strait,” he wrote yesterday. “We have always highlighted that it is better to finish in as close to one piece as possible and if that meant without a win – then so be it. The big picture is the in-port race in Qingdao and the mass of points available on the next leg. But any damage could have put paid to all of this, and that included crossing a strait renouwned for strong current, which with strong wind could have compromised the campaign significantly.”

Behind the Ericsson twins are the casualties of those conditions. ( Read Previous story here .)

Green Dragon presses on, despite suffering more structural damage after leaving the protection of their anchorage in the Philippines. Skipper Ian Walker says the team is going to press on, determined to arrive in Qingdao under sail.

“Since leaving harbour things have not gone so well for us. We proceeded very carefully into a wicked head sea and it wasn’t long before Neal and I heard two dreaded cracks. We were inspecting the bow repair at the time and while the repair held firm the bulkhead let go either side of it,” he wrote last night.

“Since then I have been agonising over how best to proceed…If we get through the next 12 hours intact, conditions should very much improve for a couple of days before another ‘cold push’ (gales from the North) will pass over us – this will be hard for us to deal with as it will be bang on the nose…To a man everyone is fully focused on getting the Green Dragon to Qingdao. There is nothing we want more right now than to sail into Qingdao however long it takes us.”

Meanwhile, a very quiet Telefonica Black pulled into harbour in Subic Bay in the Philippines just before midnight. The disappointed sailors were met by their shore crew. Presumably an assessment of the condition of the boat will be made before deciding on the next course of action.