It's been all eyes on the horizon for the last six days. For some of the boats, such as Team Brunel, Dongfeng, and Azzam, it's been like this the whole race since Alicante. However for us, in all honesty, it feels somewhat new.
In the first two legs we found ourselves at the back of the pack and pretty much playing a computer game. Now, we're fighting in the mix and it feels really good.
No longer do we have to wait six hours to find out what's happening with the fleet. The 'sked' stress seems to have lifted, and we are no longer biting our nails wondering if our move was a good move.
Leg three is 100% unpredictable, or perhaps the only predictable part of the leg is that you are bound to run into something. Size doesn't matter; it could be as small as a fishing line, but as we discovered recently even the smallest line can be upsetting.
It's like driving down the road at night knowing you're going to hit at least one thing. We are hoping we just hit a squirrel, rather than a deer or a tree, as there's more damage to the small animal than us. When your life is dependent on your vessel, you don't want any major damage done.
The other day, as we sailed along the coast of Pakistan, Annie had the helm and was just getting into a groove. A few minutes into her drive something went wrong. It was as if there was a legitimate flip of a switch and the boat just got slow, real slow.
The unfortunate thing is that plastic bags and nylon fishing line are often clear, so it's hard to see if they're stuck on the bottom of the boat. Back and forth the girls went. We were losing ground, but do we take the time risk and 'back down' like Mapfre if it looks all clear? Could we just be in bad pressure? Backing down is not ideal, especially if you cannot see anything. However, continuing to not make performance numbers is more detrimental.
We decided to bite the bullet. We also decided to simultaneously gybe. In doing so, we will never know if we did have a bit of garbage on the bottom of the boat, or if we were just in bad air. However, once we did manoeuvre, we were soon heading fast down wind and it felt good. Shortly after, Mapfre was well out of sight behind us.
Mapfre have been sitting within sight the entire race. Last night, no one on Team SCA will look back and say 'that was a boring night.' Mid-afternoon local time, Libby explained that later on in the day we would have to make an instrumental decision in regards to our route to Sri Lanka. Would we head towards the Indian coast and deal with the sea breezes, or would we head further offshore? We would do whatever the fleet did.
Almost to the minute of Libby's predicted gybing time, Mapfre put in their first gybe. Libby called "Everybody up gybing!"
After days of fending off, we were finally in a prime position to make a mileage gain and get ahead. To put Mapfre in our dirty air and take off! Obviously, the energy on board was high and excited.
Immediately following our over-taking maneuver, Libby told us all, "This is the road to Sri Lanka. We've got about a half hour to our next sked and that will give us a better understanding of where the others are, but I expect everyone's heading South East." In theory, we were not expecting a gybe off.
However, it would have been a boring night had it ended there. If everything had gone according to plan, we would have received the 'sked' and the other boats would have gybed South East as Libby anticipated.
However, sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race is tactical and showing your cards, even with boats a stone's throw distance away, is not always the best move.
At 7.15pm, when we received the 'sked,' we saw no one else had gybed. Quick! Gybe back! Stay with the fleet! We gybed back to our original course. Then Mapfre gybed. Then Mapfre gybed back. Were we about to have a dual mid Indian Ocean?!
Libby and Sam sat below sussing out what to do next. Everyone else sat on the rail in anticipation and confusion, holding and waiting for the next call.
"When pressure starts shifting, it sort of wobbles around," Sam explained to me. "We have Mapfre next to us and they actually showed us that we can use these little shifts quite nicely. They had some nicely timed gybes on shifts and made a little gain on us. So, we've decided to do the same thing."
At 2.15am, the sun broke over the horizon to reveal a familiar shape. Mapfre was still in our sight. Alvimedica and Azzam were back on AIS and were within ten miles of us.
We all agreed with Libby when she said, "It was worth it. I believe had we not had a night like that then we would have suffered a massive loss."
The team is exhausted. With no sleep after nearly 29 gybes through the night, everyone is jacked up on caffeine and mustering the remaining moments of energy to pull them through the last minutes of their watches.
"It's a bit like driving on a long road trip," Stacey explained to me. "You've got to get there, maybe you shouldn't be driving, but you're trying to stay awake the whole time. Maybe it's like that."