[Source: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing] With fewer than 200 miles to go to the Auckland finish line, our boys are clinging on to the Leg 4 lead after surviving a chaotic period of rainclouds and unpredictable gusty breezes on the approach to New Zealand.
After more than 5,000 miles of racing, Leg 4 is balanced on an absolute knife-edge. MAPFRE and Dongfeng are less than five miles behind and are sailing neck-and-neck in second and third place respectively. Light winds are forecast along the New Zealand coast this evening, meaning a long, slow night on the water for the weary crews who will have to guard against the ever-present threat of becoming totally becalmed.
“We are 70 miles from the New Zealand coastline now and in a few hours time there is going to be very little wind – meaning anything could happen,” said skipper Ian Walker. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find the whole fleet bobbing next to each other at some stage. We are trying to get everyone rested before what will be a very intense last 36 hours.”
Leg 4 has been tight from the very start, with any tactical or boat-handling mistake quickly and cruelly punished in the next release of the fleet position report. That’s the way it’s been for the six-boat fleet for 18 days since leaving China and now the final run in to New Zealand is promising no respite for the weary crews.
For the last two days ADOR had been patiently stalking its key rival, Dongfeng – impassively waiting and watching for the slightest sign of weakness or misfortune that could hand over the lead.
After endless hours of narrowing and closing the gap on the Chinese yacht, on 26th Feb, the ADOR crew got their chance when a nasty cloud formation shut down the breeze for Dongfeng and allowed Azzam to slip past into first place. “The wind has been all over the place and we have been changing sails like lunatics,” said ADOR skipper Ian Walker. “Finally we seem to have the right sail up and somehow we seem to have come out in the lead.”
Latest estimates predict the first finisher will cross the line in Auckland around midnight local time on Saturday, February 28.