Leg 11, Day 3: The final game of roulette as Dongfeng takes the inshore route to The Hague

The final hours of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 could not be more intriguing with the fleet having split into two groups around the huge exclusion zone off the German coast that blocks the direct route to The Hague.

After leading for much of the early part of this final 1,000-nautical mile leg from Gothenburg, Dongfeng was overtaken by rivals MAFRE after the second windward mark rounding off the Norwegian coast.

Then the boats rampaged south during a final few hours of power sailing before the big decision faced navigators – which way to go around the exclusion zone? They each knew that this choice could determine the final podium positions of this race, so the pressure to get it right and the courage required to stick to your guns could not be greater.

The westerly option – further offshore - is more direct but the routing suggests lighter breeze, although a better angle. The easterly option – or the inshore option – is longer but the breeze is expected to be stronger for longer. However the inshore option also has lots of obstacles to watch out for, not least shallow patches and wind farms.

Routing predictions show that there could be very little difference as the fleet converges again off the beach at The Hague, where the final miles to the line later today in front of the Race Village will take place in light airs (once again).

But let’s see if the computer programme is correct. The fact is two of the boats that could win this race are offshore – Team Brunel and MAPFRE – and one is inshore – Dongfeng Race Team. The ranking right now shows the offshore boats well ahead with Team Brunel leading MAPFRE by just over a mile just behind leg leader Team AkzoNobel. Dongfeng is listed as fifth and is currently 48 miles behind AkzoNobel.

Recent video from Dongfeng shows the boat fully powered-up in the northwesterly breeze with the crew working hard to move the stack from one side to the other.

Stu Bannatyne took a moment at the chart table to summarise the situation and the final routing decision taken by navigator Pascal Bidegorry and skipper Charles Caudrelier.

“We’ve chosen a path inshore,” said Stu. “So there’s a lot of tricky navigation with all sorts of sandbanks and traffic separation schemes, some wind farms and very changeable weather. So I suspect no one is going to get any rest tonight – it’s going to be busy changing sails and navigating our way through it all – it’s going to be an interesting night!”