A closely fought week of nip and tuck as the fleet gambles on the next phase of Leg 1

The Volvo Ocean Race is a marathon, but Puma and Telefonica will be involved in a sprint of Usain Bolt-like proportions over the next few days. After Puma and Telefonica negotiated the Doldrums the four-boat field has now split into two distinct mini-races as they head for the first leg finish in Cape Town.

Heading for the Equator and a meeting with King Neptune, Puma held the lead, but with the two teams jostling for the advantage so frequently during the first leg, no one is taking anything for granted.

Once south of the Equator both crews will head south-west towards South America and round Fernando de Noronha, a small archipelago off the Brazilian coast to the west before searching for the sling-shot effect of the north-east Trades to launch them down to Cape Town.

As Puma media crew member Amory Ross reports, there’s little finesse involved, it’s likely to be heads-down-and-go racing.

“There aren’t many tactical opportunities left on the track before the islands of Fernando, so it’s straight-line drag racing until we get there, 10-15 knots, port tack, upwind or close-reaching conditions, it will be a tense next couple of days!”

Neither side are giving much away on what their plans are for the next stage of this first leg duel.

Team Telefonica’s watch Captain Neal MacDonald is fascinated by just how close the two teams are and admits they are both working at very similar levels as both teams learn to get the best from, and get to grips with, their respective boats.

“It is quite remarkable just how similar the performances are and if this goes on around the world it is going to be one hell of a race,” he said. “It has also helped us learn our boat better – probably them just as much – but having Puma so close has certainly helped us optimise our boat”.

The run down to Cape Town is expected to be a downhill schuss but misreading the weather could still prove costly.

“It’s a fairly nervous time for all of us, particularly the skippers and navigators. You can lose or gain miles in just a few hours,” said MacDonald.

Meanwhile, the effects of the gamble made by Groupama skipper Franck Cammas nearly a week ago in the Mediterranean to sail close to the north-African coast were still being felt as the French crew suffered and struggled in the Doldrums. While Puma and Team Telefonica surged on towards Fernando de Noronha, the turning mark in leg one off the coast of Brazil, Groupama were left flailing in the windless Doldrums, some 340 nautical miles behind.

Sticking to their risky coastal route has indeed proved costly for Cammas and his crew, and despite making decent progress on Tuesday afternoon, the Groupama team will be wondering what the outcome for them could have been if they hadn’t made such a daring decision.

Spirits remain upbeat on board the French boat however, with watch leader Damian Foxall looking forward to what might happen once they reach Fernando de Noronha.

“What’s important is to take the small gains and make sure the boat is 100 per cent,” he said. “By the time we get to Rio in a week, other options may have presented themselves.”

A similarly calm attitude is also apparent on board Chris Nicholson’s Camper, who were trailing Puma by 150 miles as they approached the Doldrums. Yet Nicholson believes there is still life in this leg yet for his determined crew.

 “We can still win this leg. We’ve got the hammer down as hard as we can go,” he reported.

Nicholson’s upbeat attitude looked like it had paid dividends, as by Wednesday morning they were travelling at around 13 knots, a pace that not even the leaders themselves could match.