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Volvo Ocean Race, Heaven and Hell on the way to Hong Kong

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Volvo Ocean Race Leg 4, from Melbourne to Hong Kong, on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 4, from Melbourne to Hong Kong, on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing

Salvation may be at hand for the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as the wind is showing signs of stabilising and increasing, perhaps marking the end of a long and difficult doldrums passage.

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That being said, the forecast shows there may still be another area of light winds to contend with when the fleet closes on the equator, still some 150 miles to the north.

At 0530 UTC on Thursday morning, most of the fleet was seeing 8 to 10 knots of easterly winds. The exception was Scallywag, whose position 50 miles to the south of the leaders still has them in the clutches of the doldrums.

Scallywag navigator Libby Greenhalgh writes about the highs and lows of the past day:

"6 hours of heaven and 6 hours of hell. At 1300 yesterday we had pushed back up into the fleet, a restart... AIS became populated on and off with the rest of the fleet doing various speeds from zero to 15 KT in various directions as cloud activity rapidly grew...

"As fork lightning appeared in front us and sheet lightning to leeward, the sky was lit up to see the clouds and individual boats were trying to pick their way through.

"The clouds were developing rapidly and we got caught in a shower sandwich (probably more like a sh*t sandwich) at first we made good progress north skirting along the edge of the cloud to our west and then we were struggling to make progress out of it.

"It took over an hour for us to find our way out where a lot of the time we were hardly moving and surprisingly didn't get struck by lightning. The cloud of doom had done its job and all those miles we had made up slipped away.

"We are now in the unfortunate position where the rich will get richer as they always lead into new pressure. However there is 3000 odd miles of ground to cover and only 3-4 hours in the routings, which still means opportunity and Scallywags will be sure to take them."

Further north, there is less than 10 miles between the top five boats, with Vestas 11th Hour Racing holding the narrowest of leads over team AkzoNobel and Dongfeng Race Team. 

If this does indeed mark the end of the doldrums, the race will shift focus now into a drag race - a relentless speed contest in the northeasterly trade winds. But watch for another twist around the equator... it's not over yet.

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