SOURCE: Volvo Ocean Race
Malacca Strait, a game changer?
Dongfeng Race Team are ideally poised to be the first, protecting a 79.3 nautical mile (nm) lead over MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP) at 1240 UTC. A victory, putting them top of the overall standings, is certainly not in the bag despite their very handy advantage.
They must now pick their way through the Malacca Strait, a 500nm journey that could easily scupper all their hopes before they even reach the final section of the 4,670nm stage through the South China Sea to Sanya. The Strait, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra from Malaysia and is chock-a-block with huge tankers, dozens of tiny fishing vessels and the ubiquitous man-made, floating debris.In past races, navigators and helmsmen have found themselves dodging discarded refrigerators and rusting washing machines. A collision with such a hazard at speed could cause considerable damage to a Volvo Ocean 65.
Additionally, the winds there are notoriously fickle and Dongfeng could yet be parked in zero wind while the rest of the chasing pack catches up in stronger pressure.
Meanwhile, the race 80nm or so behind Dongfeng is really heating up with their chief rivals for the overall trophy, Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), both currently outside the top three.Their places have been taken by MAPFRE who continue to thrive under the stewardship of stand-in skipper Xabi Fernández, and third-placed Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA).
The fleet is forecast to arrive in Sanya, Hainan Island on the southern-most tip of China on January 27 or, less likely, January 28.