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ABU DHABI FIND THE ESCAPE ROUTE

30May2012_Volvo_Ocean_Race_Abu_DhabiPhoto by Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

31-05-2012. Overnight, the racing for the six-boat fleet approaching the finish of Leg 7 from Miami to Lisbon in Portugal has been some of the most intense in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) closed to within 0.4 nm of leg leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) at 0100 GMT this morning, pushing PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) to third place, but as the night wore on and the wind strength gradually improved, signalling the exit route of the no-wind ridge, optimism returned to Ian Walker and his men.

As forecast, the breeze dropped away to almost nothing overnight, but at 0500 GMT the northerly side of the course began to look promising. With a lateral separation of 75 nm between Abu Dhabi in the north and Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) in the south, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA), part of the northerly trio which included Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL), had regained second place from Groupama, 13.1 nm behind the leader. However, there is still just shy of 225 nm of tricky sailing yet to be had and the outcome is by no means certain.

“We’re not any surer of how things will play out than we were 12 hours ago,” commented navigator Jules Salter as the team concentrated on keeping Azzam rumbling along.

At 0600 GMT it was all change again, as Groupama regained second place while Abu Dhabi played every cloud, looking for acceleration with the small wind shifts and re-stacking the sails every 30 minutes for hours on end.

At 0700 GMT, with 224 nm to go to the finish line, Abu Dhabi were heading towards Lisbon at 12 knots, drawing out their lead to 15.2 nm over Groupama, who were only managing 9.7 knots.

In third, PUMA were slower still at 8 knots (+19.1 nm), while Telefónica and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) were struggling to make six knots of boat speed. Sanya, still way up north, were 37 nm behind the leaders and making eight knots.

In his missive to race headquarters this morning, Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker reported that all is calm onboard and much less intense than expected given the position the team are in, however he expects the last miles to the finish to be a big challenge.

“It appears that we now have to contend with a fairly light wind run to Lisbon, including what could be a very tricky finish at night in the River Tagus," he said. "This could test everybody’s nerves – especially at night and against the current. It is certainly nice to be in contention in the last few hundred miles of a leg, and no more than this team deserves."

The first boat is expected to cross the finish around 2200 GMT tonight.