Leg 6 leaders PUMA tacked south in the run-in to the Miami finish line on Wednesday, a tactical move that leaves them neck and neck with CAMPER in terms of straight line distance to finish but will, they hope, leave them able to cover their rivals over the final miles.
PUMA rounded the final waypoint before the finish — the Great Isaac Light — at 1240 UTC with their lead over the chasing CAMPER at around 12.5 nautical miles.
By 1400 UTC the lead was just 0.3 nm after PUMA’s decision to head south to be better placed for a current that is pushing the boats towards the north.
CAMPER navigator Will Oxley said this morning that the Gulf Stream and the potential for thunderstorms on the approach to Miami could still give them a chance and PUMA’s move signals just how seriously they are taking that threat.
“They have sailed extremely well to date, but we have had quite a few close finishes in this race so far,” said Oxley.
“You never say never and there are few navigational hazards along the way — the Gulf Stream, some thunderstorm activity this afternoon and the final approach the Miami — which could all turn the race on its head.
“Assuming we can keep it together, it looks like it will be between us and PUMA.”
Oxley said he was hoping the warm waters of the Gulf Stream would throw up some weather anomalies to enable CAMPER to challenge PUMA before the finish.
“They are in a good position at the moment and if we go straight in they are going to be very difficult to get past,” he said “If it slows up on the way to Miami then we will get the compression which we have seen on a number of previous finishes.
“If it does get light and funky at the end, with thunderstorms, then 17 miles will mean not much.”
Oxley said there could be options to try a split from PUMA across the Gulf Stream which flows north at up to four knots, but expected the American crew to be covering them hard.
“Traditionally you would come around the final waypoint and hold high to the south, so that when you cross the Gulf Stream you have some distance that you can get swept north,” Oxley said.
Oxley said the other option would be to cross the Gulf Stream fast and get beyond it and then play the shore line to the finish.
“They are not dummies on PUMA though,” Oxley said with a dry laugh. “You might have noticed we have been trying a few things to get past them and they have done a great job of covering those moves. I imagine they will do the same thing through the Gulf Stream.”
Up in the lead, PUMA skipper Ken Read said the American crew had spotted lightning flashes on the horizon.
“We have thunderstorm activity ahead of us right now,” he said this morning — adding drily: “Of course we do — I mean, we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?
“It could be anything, it could be sheet lightning, we don’t know yet, we will have to wait and see. It’s another 60 miles yet and we will deal with it when we get there.”
Read said it had felt good to stretch out on CAMPER after nearly losing their lead around Eleuthera.
“Since then we have been getting into the breeze first and pulling away a bit,” he said. “But we will accordion back together a bit when we reach the final waypoint and start to sail slower angles — and against four knots of current.
“So that is another door ahead that needs to be shut and will slow us down and take a chunk out of our lead.
Read said there would be no chance to relax in final 100 nm of Leg 6, particularly given the volatile nature of the localized weather around the Gulf Stream.
“If the breeze stays like it is at the moment or something like it then it should be a case of straight to Miami and just negotiate the current,” he said.
“But the thing about the Gulf Stream is that it creates its own weather system. So nine times out of 10, what you see before it or after it has nothing to do with what is in it, as far as weather is concerned.
“So you can’t really deal with it until you get there. It is never the same twice and that’s for sure,” Read said.
At 1400 UTC third placed Groupama held a narrow 12 nm advantage over Telefónica in fourth.
Abu Dhabi remained in fifth, 170 nm off the lead.
The leading boat is expected to cross the finish line around 1700 UTC today.
Race fans can follow the action now via the ‘Live’ Tracker on volvooceanrace.com Just click the RACE DATA tab, select tracker and then press the ‘Live’ button on the left of the menu bar. Positions are updated every 60 seconds.