In just three hours the standing changed dramatically. ECOVERturned southward, away from the rhumline, apparently in an effort to gain a better angle on the south-easterly winds further out.
This move dropped ECOVER from its position in second place to all the way down to fourth. And, more impressively, it moved Gartmore into second place and AlphaGraphics into third, their best position of the race so far.
Golding's reasons for his expensive move may be a reflection of his concern that the Sill Plein Fruit and FILA teams will get the jump on the leaders tomorrow as they enter the north-easterly swirl of the low-pressure system ahead. Both FILA and Sill are farther south than the rest of the fleet.
No such concern seems to be on Nick Moloney's mind. Kingfisher stayed its eastward course and continued to extend its lead, now 11 miles ahead of second place Gartmore. Kingfisher also continues to show the best speed towards the finish, 10.1 knots, compared to just 8.9 knots for Gartmore and just 4.7 knots for Sill.
Today's earlier report follows:
22:43GMT- As the fleet races eastward toward the final finish of the race, Kingfisher moved in front early and has stayed there. At this writing Kingfisher leads second place ECOVER by six miles.
The real news is Gartmore, just one mile behind ECOVER and so far showing its best form of the race. Both Gartmore and ECOVER are strong downwind yachts and both their skippers have longed for the kind of downwind conditions this final leg promises across the Atlantic.
Sill Plein Fruit, with its newly repaired mast, has opted to pay a big price early and head southeast in hopes it can hook into favourable southeasterly winds without risking the early upwind conditions the rest of the fleet had to endure by staying closer to the rhumline.
However, the cost has been considerable. Even though Sill shows the fastest sustained speeds in the fleet, 14.2 knots, sailing that far off the rhumline reduces their speed toward the finish to a meagre 7.6 knots. This has put them, at least temporarily, at the tail end of the fleet, some 24 miles behind the leader.
Sill also suffered early in the leg from a late start. Just minutes before the start the Sill crew found themselves stuck on a sandbar. The time it took to free the boat resulted in the team crossing the start line nearly 11 minutes late.
The Italian FILA team is sailing in fourth position, just north of Sill. AlphaGraphics, following almost in ECOVER's wake, is in fifth position. Both FILA and AlphaGraphics are roughly 18 miles behind the leader.
At some point late tonight or early tomorrow morning, both Sill and FILA should hook into the southeasterlies and will turn their bows more north.
It will not be until then that we know if their southern gambit will pay dividends or cost them dearly. Weather routers say that once a yacht racks up a healthy lead heading east across the Atlantic it will be hard for those behind to catch them. An early lead on this leg can easily become an early indicator of victory.
Both Sill and FILA must sail a tactical leg. Each yacht is recovering from serious damage on previous legs. Sill's crew must be especially careful as their mast was hastily mended in two places after breaking after the start of Leg 4. This may be why Sill, which normally sails a nearly identical course to Kingfisher, has decided on the safer southern route to start this leg.
The question now is, can she catch the leaders?