After two weeks of racing around the clock in Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge, the top seven Clipper Race teams find themselves even more tightly compressed than ever approaching the doldrums off the southern coast of Mexico.
Despite having raced more than half of the 4,100 nautical miles race from Seattle to Panama, there is just 32nm separating first from seventh as the teams make a dash for the first mandatory gate before the doldrums set in. Although Qingdao's advantage has decreased over the last 24 hours, the team continues to hold the lead over the second placed Unicef by 8nm. Qingdao Skipper Chris Kobusch reports: "The fleet really is coming together.
"We are all sailing in more or less the same direction at the same speeds and are still around a 150nm away from the first mandatory gate. Unfortunately, the breeze we had earlier is dying off as I write this."
With the pressure still on across the fleet, Garmin Skipper Gaëtan Thomas comments: "It's definitely less stressful to hunt than looking behind your shoulders all the time, all the teams are working hard either at the back or at the front, doesn't matter where you are in the leaderboard, the competition still high. Well done to all."
Sanya Serenity Coast Skipper Wendy Tuck enjoys the added pressure the close proximity. She explains: "It makes for good racing as you are always trying to eek out that little bit more speed, sometimes you are faster sometimes not, just got to keep working it."
In a race that has been highly tactical from the start, Visit Seattle has taken this moment to enter Stealth Mode and its position will remain hidden from the Race Viewer until later this evening. Explaining the decision, Skipper Nikki Henderson says: "Last night we gybed too late away from the shore and found ourselves stuck in a near wind hole. By dawn we had sacrificed our third place for sixth which was absolutely gutting after two weeks of leading the fleet, behind Qingdao of course.
"So, instead of wallow in frustration, we figured we would disappear for a while and see if we could magic a plan to sneakily get us back up to the front."
After negotiating the wind hole which threatened progress 24 hours ago, it is still a little too early to tell if PSP Logistics' gamble on the westerly routing will pay off. Skipper Matt Michell reports: "It's been a pretty good day on the whole with consistent wind and relatively good boat speed, compared to what we've had at any rate.
"I'm a bit annoyed as I would like to be a bit further east than we are, but the wind hasn't offered us too many opportunities to do so."
With two weeks of racing under the team's belt, Dale Smyth, Skipper of Dare To Lead, comments: "Is incredible that after two weeks of racing we are in company with four other boats. We continue to battle to hold position as most of the fleet has bunched up and the racing is incredibly tight again."
Looking ahead, the fleet could be in for another shake up as the breeze weakens as the The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), known as the doldrums, moves north.