The 7,880nm marathon sprint from Tauranga, New Zealand to Salvador, Brazil through the Southern Ocean and round the infamous Cape Horn, is living up to its reputation as the Class 1 boats play musical chairs for the first time half way through Leg .
Solid race leader for three out of three legs, Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group-Armor Lux, has been forced to relinquish his lead to his closest rival, French circumnavigator Thierry Dubois on Solidaires, and by doing so has put in jeopardy the three sacred points distinguishing his current first place (30 pts) from Dubois' second (27 pts) in the overall rankings. "As I was coming into Port Stanley, I knew Boisdu (Thierry) was only 15 miles behind, you can't believe how frustrating that felt…"
At 20:24hrs GMT 25th February, Bobst Group/Armor Lux came alongside the pontoon at Port Stanley. The Swiss are known for precision timing, and this is what Bernard needs right now more than anything else. Stamm is impatient: "For me, there is 5 hours of work to do once I stop. There are 50 holes to drill in the two steel plates, and afterwards to align them. The plates are ready…" The yacht's designer Pierre Rolland has created a piece, which has been fashioned using the materials available to the team in the Falklands: two steel plates which will be fixed on either side of the keel board and then bolted together in between. The hardest part is going to be piercing through 140mm of monolithic carbon - but once bolted through, Stamm will be able to leave again. To add insult to injury, the boat suffered another knock-down earlier from a 60 knot gust as a front passed through, and the mainsail ripped at the reinforcement of the reefing point, adding a sewing job to the pressing agenda.
It is a real race against time as this stop will incur a 48 hour penalty for Stamm, as well as the time in port. At best, Bernard can hope to finish still in either 2nd or 3rd place for this leg, as both Dalton & Schwab are expected to stop to fix their broken booms as well. Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti rounded Cape Horn at 22:00hrs GMT last night ahead of Dalton on Hexagon but nearly three days after Stamm. Will Tiscali follow Solidaires' trail to the East of the Falklands or find a new window of opportunity on the other side?
So the points battle really begins. The real wild card is Emma Richards on Pindar, as she is currently in 3rd overall with 20 points, and yet Dalton, Bianchetti and Schwab are all respectively just one, two and three points behind. In this penultimate leg Richards is trailing in 6th place, but with three of her competitors forced to make pit stops and receive 48hr penalties, will she reel in enough miles from the Horn to Salvador in order to reap the real benefits and keep her podium position going into Leg 5?
Richards and Schwab were getting a pasting from the Southern Ocean today, and are both within 2 days of Cape Horn. Emma sent the briefest of messages today: "Been on tiller for most of 10 hours now, been gusting to 56kts, now between 30 and 45. White water and spray everywere, big waves from the side knocking us sideways, in the dark is just a mad sleigh ride that you can't get off, even when you want to!! Exhausting and quite stressful..."
Class 2 leader Brad Van Liew remains well over 500 miles ahead of his nearest competitor, Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal but they are in two totally different weather patterns. While Kent has relatively benign weather, the same cannot be said for life on board Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America: "It has been gusting to 63 knots. Right now the wind is blowing right off the ice and it's very cold. It's also wet with water everywhere. It's not as bad as four years ago, but it's a severe gale nonetheless. I can't wait to get to the Horn, around the corner and out of this place."