After 24,000 miles of solo ocean racing around the globe, only two points and a matter of 10 hours and 50 minutes on elapsed time separates the leading two contenders for overall Class 1 victory.
Current Class 1 leader Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Open 60 Bobst Group-Armor Lux is psyched up for the 'ultimate fight', two words his closest rival Frenchman Thierry Dubois has written on the cabin wall of Solidaires. Stamm is nothing but totally focused: "The first part of the leg will be all about speed, and after the Doldrums we will have to negotiate the northern hemisphere trade winds, which can shift from south to north east. So it will be a game of finding the right compromise between course and speed. I must cross the finish line of the last leg in order to breathe a sigh relief and say to myself that it's over. There are 4000 miles, 5 different weather systems, a lot of tactics, and of course 'Boisdu' always on my tail."
The other fight in Class 1 is for overall third place, currently held by British skipper Emma Richards on Pindar, who could become the first woman to be on the podium in the 20 year history of Around Alone if she plays her cards right. However, Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti on the powerful Lombard designed Tiscali, can still topple Richards if he can beat her by 2 points in this last leg - despite his dismasting on Leg 2. Neither skipper is taking the final leg lightly: "The wild card is Bruce Schwab,"
Emma commented. "Simone and I both know that Ocean Planet holds an advantage over the beamier boats if we get moderate upwind conditions."
Bruce Schwab is indeed looking forward to finishing the Around Alone on a high point with his slim Tom Wylie designed boat. "I am confident that I can finish in the top three of this last leg."
Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada rejoined the race at 01:52 GMT Sunday 13th April at 56 02 S 066 24 W. He reports 17 knots of wind from the North East, rain and fog and is making 7.3 knots boatspeed. He dismasted on March 7th to the east of Cape Horn and has spent 27 days rebuilding his Open 40 in order to complete Leg 4 of Around Alone.
In Class 2, current overall leader, American skipper Brad Van Liew on Open 50 Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, heads into the last leg as the only skipper in this fleet with 4 straight wins and maximum 40 points under his belt. Van Liew will be aiming to consolidate his consecutive victories - a run which has only been matched by Class 2 winner Yves Dupasquier, who won all four legs in the 1991 BOC Challenge. With an average boatspeed of 8.54 knots on the racecourse so far, Van Liew has also surpassed his boat's previous performance in Around Alone 4 years ago, when she was skippered by Mike Garside to second place overall with an average boatspeed of 7.63 knots.
However, Van Liew does not claim that the final leg will be plain sailing: "The last 1,000 miles will be the most tactical. As I pass Bermuda my strategy must be decisive. There is Cape Hatteras to pass and the weather could easily be unpredictable and nasty."
After suffering a dismasting on the final leg of the Around Alone four years ago the American skipper knows better than most that anything can happen. The same applies to fellow American skipper Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal, who is trailing Van Liew by 5 points overall: "Goal Number One for this campaign has always been to finish the race. 4,000 miles is a long way to go, but the goal remains the same: to bring Everest Horizontal safely back to Newport."
This has not been achieved without a considerable amount of hard work, generous supporters and some invaluable volunteer help along the way for his unsponsored campaign. Kent and his boat are both in remarkably good shape for the off: "This is the first time that I have had more than 45 minutes sleep the night before a restart!"
Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi on Open 40 Spirit of yukoh could spring a surprise on his big brothers in Class 2 as in each leg of Around Alone he has been climbing up the rankings to finally score 3rd place in Leg 4. Without the unstoppable Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada physically racing with the class, Koji will be biting at the heels of the 50 footers - especially now he has natural energy strips fixed on the hull and in the mainsail to dispel any opposing forces in the elements. Bermudian skipper Alan Paris on Open 40 BTC Velocity is looking forward to achieving his solo circumnavigation, which has been a smoother ride than most for the skipper who has spent so far a total of 174 days at sea. "I don't have shore crew, but have never had anything huge to fix each time I finish a leg. I guess I owe my organisational skills on the boat to more to 18 years as a hotel manager - it's enough training for anyone!"
Leg 5 Restart from Salvador, Brazil - Newport, RI USA
The start of Around Alone Leg 5 will be given at 13:00 hrs local time (GMT 17:00) off the breakwater in front of the CENAB (Central Nautico de Bahia). The start gun will be fired from a Brazilian navy vessel with special guests of the Governo da Bahia on board. The boats will head up to Mont Serrat point and round a channel marker after which they will sail along the waterfront of Salvador towards Barra lighthouse. There, the boats must pass between two marker buoys laid 150 metres offshore, before heading out on the 4,000 mile leg to Newport, RI. There will be a big fireworks display at the lighthouse as the boats pass by, and over 100 spectator craft watching the restart.
The leg from Salvador, Brazil back to Newport, RI is the final sprint. Luck and tactics still play their part. The Doldrums have to be crossed again, then the yachts will run into the Northeast trades that will push them fast towards their destination, but there is another agonizing choice: to go straight, which means close to Bermuda and risk a high-pressure system removing the wind, or take the longer westward route, closer to the US Coast, where at least the Gulf Stream will give you miles even if the wind disappears. The shortest distance may appear to be a straight line between two ports, but this may not give the shortest time.