ABN AMRO One is leading with just 66 miles to go to finish of Leg 5 17/4/06

ABN AMRO ONE (Mike Sanderson) and movistar (Bouwe Bekking) are making the final push as they near the finish of the 5,000-mile leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race from Rio de Janeiro to Baltimore, USA.

After a night of thunder and lightning, which was still ongoing at 0800 GMT this morning, movistar lost two miles to ABN AMRO ONE. On the approach to the Chesapeake Bay entrance, the course was dead downwind, not an optimum course, which required the boats to gybe frequently to get through the entrance. “We have done I don’t know how many gybes in the last eight hours,” wrote Bekking at 0800 GMT this morning. “We have taken the opportunity of every little shift. We picked our lanes through the storm, to keep the best wind.”

ABN AMRO ONE is off the entrance to the Potomac River, which is on the west of the Chesapeake Bay and leads to Washington DC. She is sailing fractionally faster than movistar and has just 66 miles to go before crossing the finish line, which could be as soon as 1600 GMT today. But movistar is only 35 miles behind and the game is still open. One mistake from the Dutch boat and movistar would slip past, but at present, ABN AMRO ONE is fast, very fast. “When you are fast, you always look smart, but still people can make mistakes, but ABN AMRO ONE hasn’t made many,” says Bouwe Bekking.

Pirates of the Caribbean (Paul Cayard), looking safe in third place, is 158 miles from the entrance to the Bay and their predicted arrival time is around 0700 GMT tomorrow, Tuesday, morning with the Ericsson (John Kostecki) and Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) just four hours behind her. Ericsson is predicted to be only 45 minutes in front of Brasil 1 after a terrific battle which has lasted for the past week.

In last place, the youngsters on ABN AMRO TWO (Sebastien Josse) gave themselves a real fright yesterday evening when they very nearly lost their mast.

“We were power reaching in 25 knots of wind, going fast, all under control,” explains navigator Simon Fisher. “All of a sudden there was a massive bang from on deck, like gunfire, followed by the screams of the guys on watch to get everyone on deck. The toggle that holds the runner block to the boat had snapped.

“With this broken, there was nothing opposing the force of the jib and staysail pulling the mast over the front of the boat. Luckily Scott Beavis, thinking fast, threw the boat into the wind and the guys arriving on deck wound the mainsheet on hard to stop the rig tumbling down.

“With little support, the 30 metre spar was writhing around like a snake as the jib flapped on the bow. Fortunately we were able to get the sails down without any further damage and start making repairs. We were able to rob some parts from the leeward side, enabling us to fix the runner block to the back of the boat and within half an hour we were sailing again at full pace.”

Luckily no one was hurt as the runner block left the deck when its six tones of load hurled it skywards. The young guns are back in the race with the pedal to the floor, racing harder than ever. Brasil 1 is only 27 miles ahead of ABN AMRO TWO and the team is pushing as hard as possible to beat them to Baltimore.