Dongfeng and MAPFRE fight for every boatlength as the fleet compresses behind them

The final showdown of the Volvo Ocean Race is proving a nail-biting affair as Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE continue their match race at the front of the fleet, with overall race victory the prize awaiting them in The Hague.

Overnight the boats have been making increasingly slow progress to windward up the Kattegat as they make their way to the virtual mark off the south coast of Norway.

Dongfeng led the way from the “Fly-By” mark rounding off the Danish city of Aarhus, but MAPFRE was shadowing her every move, sitting on her stern wave.

When the leading pair were off Gothenburg during the hours of darkness – where this leg started on Thursday – the Spanish crew managed to get ahead, but Charles Caudrelier and his team have found a way back.

Right now, with less than 10 miles to go to the turn, Dongfeng is a few boatlengths ahead but the fleet has dramatically compressed behind her and the first six boats are now within eight miles of each other.

This means, of course, that Team Brunel, which is also a contender for overall honours, is now much closer to the leading pair, in fourth place and just six miles adrift.

On board Dongfeng the atmosphere is tense as the crew fights for every inch in their battle to win this race. Recent video shows the boat going upwind on port tack with blue skies and a flat sea. Once again Stu Bannatyne has been taking his turn on the wheel, handing over to bowman Jack Bouttell.

Down below Kevin Escoffier summed up the state of affairs so far. “We are in match-race mode with MAPFRE,” he said. Like everyone else on board Kevin has had little sleep since this leg started.

The key now is for the Chinese-flagged team to maintain their lead to the mark. From there the boats start heading west across the top of Denmark and they will quickly start to feel the influence of stronger northwesterly winds that will propel them south to the finish at The Hague.

Dongfeng now has less than 450 nautical miles to go. It’s going to be difficult to take our eyes off the Tracker as this fascinating final chess game on the sea unfolds.