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02July2012_Volvo_Ocean_Race_TelefonicaPhoto by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race

02-July-2012. It has been an intense night on the race-track for the six-boat fleet racing in the final offshore leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), desperate to put on a good final show after losing the overall lead on the Atlantic Leg 7, is in pole position, but all six are under 16 miles apart and the throttle is fully down.

In the past hour, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) have pressed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) to take second place, while overall leaders Groupama, are currently in fourth place as the fleet approaches the infamous Fastnet Rock 52 miles ahead, which must be left to port.

Overnight, as the fleet close reached across the Western Approaches at 18 – 20 knots, the English Channel produced its worst. Cold and tired crews were miserably huddled on the rail in 25 knots of wind, rainsqualls, fog and shivering cold temperatures in a furious race where no one is prepared to give an inch.

As the fleet approaches the coast of Ireland the wind is expected to drop, sending the fleet upwind for a short time before sheets can be cracked. There will be one critical gybe before the fleet can head towards the finish line in Galway later tonight.

Speaking from CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand earlier this morning, navigator Will Oxley explained that his team had decided on a very light boat for this leg with a massive stack. “It seems to be working so far. Also our timings on our sail changes have been very good and we seem to be hanging in there,” Oxley said.

Looking ahead, the navigator from Australia expects to see teams cutting the corners where there is favourable tide. “People are going to be pushing it, going as close as they can to the bricks. Probably the VMG run and the final gybe into Galway will be significant,” he said.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) chose an offshore option mid-afternoon on Sunday in search of more favourable wind angles, closing back with the pack as it converged on the western tip of the shipping exclusion zone set north of Ushant. The top three boats are less than 0.6 nm apart, while Groupama is just two miles off the lead. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) and Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) are a mile apart, but 15 miles from Telefónica.

This is the final full day at sea for the class of 2011-12 and the last appearance offshore in the Volvo Ocean Race for the Volvo Open 70, which is to be replaced by a new one-design 65 from the board of Farr Yacht Design for the 2014-15 Race and beyond.