Volvo Ocean Race: Darkness to the finish

Volvo Ocean Race fans around the world were on the edges of their seats today as Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag’s emergence from “Stealth Mode” corresponded with four other teams ‘disappearing’ from the tracker.

Scallywag had a jump of just 40 miles on second-placed Vestas 11th Hour Racing when they went into Stealth Mode just before 1700 UTC yesterday, cloaking their position from their rivals and from fans for three consecutive six-hourly position reports.

At 1300 UTC today they reappeared on the tracker back in the number one spot with only 500 miles left – but just when it seemed the action couldn’t get any more tense, podium challengers Vestas 11th Hour Racing and team AkzoNobel deployed Stealth Mode.

Team Brunel and Turn the Tide on Plastic, locked in their own battle with MAPFRE for fifth, also chose to go ‘undercover’, leaving only three teams on the tracker with 24 hours to go.

At 1300 UTC Scallywag were 37 miles ahead of Dongfeng, but both teams – and race fans – were left guessing as to where Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Akzonobel were. If we assume the Vestas team remains ahead of Dongfeng, the race to finish in Hong Kong is getting closer and closer.

Prior to emerging from Stealth Mode, Scallywag skipper Dave Witt hinted at just how tight it is at the top – and revealed that the race to the finish line could go down to the wire.

“I think it’s a good for some of our fans that we’ve been in Stealth Mode because there’s a few people who’d be having heart attacks if they knew how close it was,” Witt said. “We are in front, we are leading, but it’s really close. The others don’t realise how close it is.

“We haven’t trusted our weather routing software at all on this leg but now we want to because it says we’re going to beat Vestas in by an hour and a half. To all the Scallywag supporters in Hong Kong: say a prayer for us tonight.”

Despite their proximity to the finish, the teams have been contending with several hurdles, which include threading their way through the islands of the Luzon Strait and avoiding the huge wind shadow created by Taiwan, or the smaller islands of the northern Philippines.

And once they close in on Hong Kong, they may face a stretch of light winds as they navigate the final miles to the finish line.

These uncertainties mean that even at this late stage of the leg, anything can happen.

The tracker is now live to the finish (as opposed to six hour updates) and the most up-to-date ETAs see the leaders arriving between 1600 to 2000 UTC tomorrow afternoon, with the back trio due in between 0200 and 0630 UTC on Saturday (Jan 20).

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