The countdown to the finish of Leg 3 has begun for Class 2 leader American Brad Van Liew, who will bring Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America over the line into Tauranga in the next 10 hours.
Over the course of the 7,200 nm leg, Van Liew has pushed out an incredible 1,050 mile advantage over his nearest rivals in Class 2 and is set to finish after spending 32 - 33 days in the Southern Ocean alone. This is the kind of performance worthy of the bigger siblings in the Class 1 fleet, two of which he has been trailing by only 3 -5 miles down the East coast of New Zealand.
There is no short of excitement for these last two yachts in Class 1 coming into the finish within sight of not only Class 2 leader Brad Van Liew but also of each other. Just two miles separates Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet and Emma Richards on Pindar.
Schwab has taken the inshore route a la Dalton, working the breeze off the land, as he is handicapped on starboard without a ballast tank. The light airs suit his narrower boat and he has sneaked ahead. "I have had very little sleep. I was putting in the third reef this morning when the fourth batten came out, and I had to lower the sail most of the way, climb part way up and pull out 20 feet of batten without dropping it in the drink. What I have seen of NZ is very beautiful. I need to finish this leg and set foot on it."
Richards' mainsail repair is one thing that has been holding together through the strong headwinds, which she has endured as much as the frustrating light airs over the last 24 hours. "Last night when we still had 25kts beating, one bad slamming wave destroyed the wind instrument at the top of the mast and that was the spare one, this and a compass fault basically took out my pilot so I was sitting there handsteering in these 'filthy' waves… so that was the beginning of the eventful night of 40kts trying to tack numerous times to get down the coast. No sleep except for a half hour this morning so I might take a nap on deck and wake with an alarm every 10 or 20 mins to check nothing has changed."
The rest of the last day has seen all three boats conversely struggle to get their boatspeed above 5 knots, whilst tacking around the islands and coastline towards Tauranga, New Zealand. The latest ETA for all three boats is at the earliest 6 o'clock in the morning local time but if the wind does not fill in at all overnight it could be more like mid to late morning. Tauranga is preparing to give all three skippers the warmest welcome out on the water, at the pontoons and in the WesternBay Finance Race Village.
After tacking into light headwinds throughout the night, Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti finally brought his Lombard designed Open 60 Tiscali over the finish line fourth during a stunning sunrise over Mount Maunganui in Tauranga at 05:30:19 local time on 14th January (16:30:19 GMT 13th Jan). Visibly withdrawn from lack of food & water and in desperate need of sleep, Simone was simply happy to have put this leg behind him.