Leaders face tight Volvo Ocean Race in final push toward Miami

Posted May 09, 2012, at 2:53 p.m.

MIAMI — Two separate match races to Miami were under way Tuesday night in the final hours of Leg 6 in the Volvo Ocean Race.

With less than 200 miles to the finish line outside Government Cut, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by Berg still was at the head of the fleet, with runner-up CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand about 11 nautical miles back. The two leaders were preparing to hang a left at the lighthouse on the northern tip of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, then cross the northerly rushing Gulf Stream to Miami. Breezes had been light most of the day as the two boats sailed parallel to Eleuthera, but were expected to pick up once they hit the Gulf Stream.

The second match race was going on about 60 nautical miles back between Groupama and Team Telefonica, which had taken split routes around Cat Island. Groupama had maintained its third-place position most of the day, but Telefonica headed east around the island and caught up to pull within one nautical mile of its rival Tuesday night.

According to projections from Volvo Ocean Race control, the leaders were expected to arrive early Wednesday afternoon, followed a couple of hours later by the second-tier boats. The fifth boat in the fleet, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, was more than 120 nautical miles behind the front-runners and wasn’t expected to arrive here until Thursday.

PUMA skipper Ken Read anticipated a close, final drag race to Miami, and said he hoped to keep CAMPER in sight, applying the basketball adage of “keeping ourselves between our opponent and the hoop.”

“Sure it sounds easy, but when you can’t see your opponent anymore, it is like playing basketball in the pitch black and trying to stay with your man,” Read blogged Tuesday. “Keep playing the odds, and if they are going to pass us, make them sail around us.”

A PUMA victory in Miami would give the American team its second consecutive leg win. PUMA was the only boat that didn’t break during the long, torturous Leg 5 from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil.

Meanwhile, the crews of Telefonica — the overall race leader — and second-place Groupama vowed to keep up the fight all the way to the finish line, vying for valuable points with three legs to go in the around-the-world race.

“It is probably the first time that so many boats can still win the overall trophy at this stage in the race,” Groupama watch captain Thomas Coville said.

A flotilla of spectator boats is expected to gather for the arrival of the Volvo fleet Wednesday. The winners will be escorted to the main stage at the race village in Bicentennial Park for a champagne ceremony.

© 2012 The Miami Herald

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