Just 20 miles separate first and last place in the final hours of leg eight

It has been a tough 24 hours for the seven boats in the Volvo Ocean Race as they enter the final stages of leg eight (Galway to Marstrand). Ericsson 4 still has a tenuous lead over Green Dragon ( 2 nm) and both are match racing up the Danish coast, less than a mile off the beach of Thyborøn – a fishing village in Jutland, famous for being the site of numerous shipwrecks.

However, while the leading pair continues at a steady 11 knots, PUMA ( 5) is moving in from left field and is still managing to average a speed of over 17 knots.

“The big question is will there be enough runway for us to make up the deficit on our competition?” asked MCM Rick Deppe. “We know for sure that we have way more pressure than they do in there on the Danish coast, but our tracks are converging and we only have about 100 miles to the north tip of Denmark, where we make the turn and head for Marstrand.”

A smile is back on the faces of the Telefónica Blue crew as they step back into the race after spending some unfamiliar time at the bottom of the ranking yesterday. They have picked off Ericsson 3 and Delta Lloyd and are now in fifth place, only 10 nm behind the leader. “We’ve been taken from hell to heaven directly, in a matter of few hours? only thinking about what happened makes my head ache,” wrote Gabri Olivo MCM.

The relentless conditions, from gales to flat calms, shipping to shallows and ferocious currents, have rendered the crews physically and mentally exhausted. Brad Jackson from Ericsson 4 explained in a radio interview that this leg is particularly hard physically because the crew is always up and spends a lot more time on deck and therefore more time awake.

“I can hardly recall a race with less sleep,” said Telefónica Black’s navigator Roger Nilson. “No hallucinations, but having a hard time to remember certain simple things. The intensity of the racing has been high and has left very little time over for ‘charging our batteries’.

“You can tell when people are really tired, as they don’t bother to try and get in a sleeping bag; they just collapse in their wet kit wherever they can,” explained Ian Walker, whose crew is running double standby watches which means a maximum of two hours sleep in every eight – if you are lucky.

PUMA had sailed into third position yesterday, only to blow out their big spinnaker when sailing downwind just after the Rotterdam Gate Race. They were engulfed in the no-wind centre of the low pressure. “The team is down right now, but all realise that we can’t quit and need to press on,” skipper Ken Read wrote last night, but today, as they bash their way towards the head of the leg leaderboard, morale has, presumably, improved considerably.

At 1300 GMT today (10 June), with just 131 nm to go to the finish in Marstrand, it was all to play for as the fleet was split 20 nm from Ericsson 4 to Ericsson 3, who scored the high highest 24-hour run of 249 nm, bringing up the rear. Computer routeing software is predicting a finish in Marstrand during the early hours of tomorrow morning.

As Marstrand is officially a ‘pit-stop’, the shore crews are not allowed to work on the boats and any damage that requires repairing has to be carried out by the sailing crews themselves. Sleep will be low on the agenda.

Leg 8 Positions – Day 5, 13:00 GMT

1. Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 131 nm
2. Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) 2
3. PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) 5
4. Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) 08
5. Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) 10
6. Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermúdez/ESP) 10
7. Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) 20

To follow the race, visit www.volvooceanrace.org .