Big winds from behind to benefit tailenders 1/3/06

With just 603 nautical miles to the scoring gate at Cape Horn, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet is closing together and the crews are beginning to cover their opponents. The north south divide is just 70 nm between Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) in the north and ABN AMRO ONE in the south.

At 1000 GMT today, Ericsson Racing Team (Neal McDonald) had again lost miles and has swapped places with ABN AMRO TWO (Sebastien Josse) to be in sixth position.

The pedal is firmly down as the fleet travels at the same speed as the front, with a steady wind speed of 20-22 knots, but the weather is expected to deteriorate in the next 12 hours, possibly increasing to 35 knots. The forecast shows that the increase of breeze is coming from the north-west, so Brasil 1, ABN AMRO TWO and Ericsson Racing Team should continue to make gains on the leaders in the approach to Cape Horn. After rounding Cape Horn, the fleet should continue to reach in a strong westerly breeze which will help eat up the miles to the finish in Rio de Janeiro.

Paul Cayard onboard The Black Pearl in second place, 34 miles behind ABN AMRO ONE (Mike Sanderson), is happy. He wrote late last night, “movistar has now come up from the south and is 15 miles behind us. So the decision we made three days ago, to gybe towards the Horn and leave them to go south, paid off to the tune of 15 miles at least. ABN AMRO ONE is staying down there [in the south], as they don’t worry too much about getting caught low as they have much more stability than the rest of us, so they can just rock up across the fleet whenever they want. Brasil 1 has been making nice gains to the north of our line and I think that was another reason movistar changed course and headed north.”

After Cape Horn, the tactical decision will be whether to go through the narrow Le Maire Strait, between Cape Horn and the Isla de Los Estados, and, following that, whether to leave the Falkland Islands to port or starboard.