As the fleet form into three distinct groups, it's all change at the top. Having been a close second behind front-runner Liverpool Clipper, Jersey took the lead yesterday afternoon albeit by the slimmest of margins.
Jersey Clipper's new skipper, Simon Rowell, and his crew will be pleased to see that this morning's position reports show them still at the front of the fleet.
London Clipper also did well, overtaking Hong Kong to move into third place. The surprise however is that despite London's third place, Hong Kong are back up to second this morning, a mere 4 and a half miles behind Jersey. This has been brought about by an unfortunate run from Liverpool Clipper, which has seen them fall 3 places to fifth.
The boats have all been reaching in a straight line in similar winds; mostly with white sails up as the wind is a little far forward for spinnakers.
Richard Butler and the Bristol crew tried to gain a speed advantage by hoisting their spinnaker for a while, but with little success and eventually dropping it when the sail, flown as low and tight as possible to avoid sailing too far off the wind, caught a passing wave which apparently caused the snap shackle (the hook which holds the sail) on the guy to release. This was actually quite a lucky break as the alternative would have been for the sail to rip...
In these conditions the fleet are very evenly matched and it is very hard to gain, or lose, a speed advantage. Although we have heard nothing yet, we can only speculate that Liverpool may have suffered some damage to fall so far back, especially when one compares their 24-hour run with those nearest.
Overall however the distances between the Clipper yachts are minimal and on this length of race, with little in the way of tactical options, boat speed becomes all important. At most boats have a 4 mile gap in distance to finish and with the yachts in each "group" sailing within sight of each other, it is likely that the racing will remain intense.
What little strategic advantage there is will depend very much on the wind strength over the next 24 hours as the yachts approach the first mark of the course. Given the current situation with winds around the force 5 mark, Jersey and Hong Kong should be well placed with a 20 mile windward advantage. This means that they can sail slightly less close to the wind than the others, so should have faster speeds. If the wind swings more to the east, which looks likely, they will have an even bigger advantage.
However, the whole fleet is heading into an area where not only is the wind forecast to ease considerably, but where the conditions can be very localised, with a mile or so giving potentially very different winds.
As we saw on the final approach to Cuba, this combination of calms and localised breezes can cause some major position changes. Watch this space!
LATEST POSITIONS 17/12/02, 0400 GMT