After Thierry Dubois' solid second place finish on Solidaires in Tauranga at 22:03:54 local time (09:03:54 GMT) on Friday 10th January, it is still all to play for in the duel for the coveted last spot on the podium for Leg 3.
After racing for 7,000 miles in the world's roughest and most remote Southern Ocean, an intense match race has been raging between Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti on Tiscali and Kiwi Graham Dalton on Hexagon in the Tasman Sea on the final approach to Tauranga, New Zealand.
Tiscali overtook Hexagon over the weekend, holding a tenuous 20 mile lead for some time, but calculations made using Raymarine's customised Raytech 4.1 software shows at the 0600GMT position report that Hexagon is back in front by a mere 7 miles with 310 miles to go. Apart from facing tough competition in each other, both skippers have been using all their mental and physical energy and skill to navigate the light flukey winds and cross seas in the Tasman, and round Cape Reinga ahead of the other.
Simone Bianchetti reported in a phone conversation with Race HQ: "This stretch of ocean is worse even than the Doldrums at the Equator, I would prefer a Southern Ocean storm to this any day. I have no food left and just 3 litres of drinking water now. The sea state last night was very choppy, the boat goes bang, bang, bang, and I know Hexagon closed in. In the last 6 hours the wind has risen, I am averaging 12 knots and I hope to push my lead out a bit more."
Considering he has a temporary mast lent to him by Bernard Stamm and a hardly ideal sail inventory, Bianchetti has brought Tiscali through this leg remarkably well. "The boat and the sails are okay, no damage at all,"
The wind is coming back thanks to a low pressure to their North West bringing 15 - 20 knots of ENE breeze. Graham Dalton was feeling the frustration as he was only able to look on and watch, still wallowing in light headwinds to the South of Tiscali. The current ETA for both boats is during the early morning on Tuesday local time. The whole of New Zealand is on tenterhooks waiting to see if their Kiwi skipper will reach his home port of Tauranga before his Italian rival.
In fact the race organisation in Tauranga is expecting 5 boats to arrive within 24 hours of each other, which includes Class 2 leader American Brad Van Liew on Open 50 rocket ship 'Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America', recorded as the fastest boat of her size in the world under the veteran Around Alone skipper's helm. A whole 1,050 miles ahead of his nearest rival Tim Kent on Everest Horizonal, Van Liew is now racing in the middle of the bigger Class 1 yachts 17 miles ahead of Pindar.
Bruce Schwab, with his unconventional unstayed rig, has been making ground, overtaking Pindar at one point, thanks to his yachts' design being much faster in the lighter conditions of late. However, with 1 mile separating them after thousands of miles and the forecast headwinds round the corner, the future is not looking at its most favourable.
British skipper Emma Richards on Pindar remains in good humour as she struggles to keep her boat sailing fast with a damaged mainsail. However, she is concerned that if the conditions stay light then the narrower Ocean Planet will excel. "I have more daylight showing through my repairs than normal, but I have decided to push anyway, as if it goes, it goes, but at least I will have tried to the last to hold onto that 5th position, and I will continue to cross fingers and toes and touch wood that the main holds together."