Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA), which dismasted on Wednesday afternoon, arrived in Punta del Este in Uruguay at 0355 UTC this morning. The team will construct a jury rig with the help of members of their shore crew and return to the race track to complete Leg 5 to Itajaí, Brazil. Of the two teams still racing, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA), the only team not to have suspended racing at some point on this testing leg from Auckland, are powerless to protect their leading position from the unstoppable Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP).
“There is no way to cover a boat that five days ago was 400 nm (nautical miles) behind and at a dock,” reported PUMA’s Media Crew Member Amory Ross.
Telefónica made a brief pit stop on April 1 at Caleta Martial, a cove on Herschel Island in Chile, to make temporary repairs before returning to the race track 17 hours later.
Conditions today are no less testing. Still close-hauled, PUMA and Telefónica have reported gusts of over 50 knots between 0530 and 0610 UTC. In the darkness, it was all hands on deck to drop all sails when Telefónica was hit by a massive squall, which could easily have compromised their position.
“It was pretty chaotic,” said Telefónica’s watch leader Neal McDonald. “We had to take all the sails down, it wasn’t sailable at that stage and we went into survival mode for a few minutes.”
Conditions have since eased, but the Spanish crew are cautious.
“It is very sedate now, it’s only 13 knots,” McDonald added. “We’ve gone to a J4 small headsail, just in case we get a bit more. We are going to sit on that for a while and just see what happens.”
In spite of the earlier drama, Telefónica still managed to take another four nm out of PUMA, who, at 1000 GMT, led by 53.14 nm.
While PUMA is keeping in close contact with the coast of Brazil, just 14 nm offshore, Telefónica, having halved their lateral separation, are 40 miles further east. With just 434 nm of runway left to the finish, it would be heart-breaking for the team to be forced into second place by the runaway Spanish, a position that would feel more akin to finishing last.
“Hopefully the front they’ve carried north since Cape Horn will reach us with enough time to hold on to the lead, but we just don’t know,” PUMA’s Ross added.
“They are untouchable and unreachable so far offshore. One routing model has us finishing within five minutes of each other.”
Conditions for the finish could certainly be light and fickle and even if Telefónica were to enter the final hours in first position, the race could still produce a nail-biting finish in PUMA’s favour.
“It’s all in the hands of the weather gods,” McDonald concluded.
The leader is expected to cross the finish in Itajaí at approximately 1600 UTC on Friday.