Yann Riou/Dongfeng Race Team/Volvo Ocean Race
ALICANTE, Spain, October 16 – All seven Volvo Ocean Race boats have tasted the lead at least once during five extraordinary days of racing since setting off from Alicante at the weekend in sailing which is re-writing the offshore rule-book.
In years past, the fleet would have been well stretched, tens of miles apart, by this stage in Leg 1 between Alicante and Cape Town.
Instead we are seeing close-quarter action more akin to in-shore sailing with hundreds of metres often separating the fleet. It means that each sailor barely has a second to relax while he or she can still see – almost – the whites of their rivals' eyes.
By 1000 UTC on Thursday, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing still retained a tiny lead over Dongfeng Race Team with Team SCA hot on their heels in third and the rest of the fleet still very much in touch and within striking distance.
It was always suspected that the competition would be close for the 12th edition of the 41-year-old event which is introducing a one-design boat, the Volvo Ocean 65, for the first time. But never quite this tight.
The proximity of the fleet has even caught the technical team of the Race organisers by surprise – they have had to re-configure the online tracker which had been built to calculate tens or hundreds miles of separation between the boats rather than the odd mile or so.
"It's remarkable how compressed the seven Volvo Ocean 65s are at this point in the race," said Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's onboard reporter, Matt Knighton.
"Race veterans can't believe it. Onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the guys are just now starting their normal sleep rhythms after spending the first three nights of the race with no rest.
"Still, there's little chance to relax when your competition is only a few miles away. Bright lights on the horizon."
For one sailor, Tony Rae of Team Vestas Wind, there has been precious little rest or comfort after setting out on Saturday from Alicante with a badly bruised – or possibly broken – rib.
He is using the bottom of a kitbag to protect the injury after an out-of-control grinder handle hit him in the chest in a practice race prior to departure.
Rae, 53, who is the oldest sailor in the fleet, has made little of the injury. "I didn't want to worry my mum," he explained.
Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race
Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race