The Australian-British sailor Jack Bouttell says Holcim-PRB is a “weather-system” ahead of his own boat – 11th Hour Racing Team – but he and his crewmates will be looking for opportunities to haul them back in, as the dramatic Leg 3 of The Ocean Race continues.

With Kevin Escoffier and his crew on Holcim-PRB still streaking ahead, on the top of a big low pressure system centered about 600 nautical miles to the southeast of them, Mãlama is now over 500 miles behind in second place.

That’s because the American boat, along with Paul Meilhat’s Biotherm and Boris Herrmann’s Team Malizia, have all fallen into a high pressure system that has left them battling light winds and a heavy swell. They are also having to sail a longer course, as they head south looking for more breeze.

“For sure Holcim-PRB are in a nice spot,” Bouttell told the IMOCA Class. “They will be able to sit on the back of the low pressure and extend their lead a good way. With the issues and slowdowns we had, we just fell off the back of the low and will now be forced to sail south and wait for the next system to catch up.

© Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing / The Ocean Race

“In terms of looking forward, it is impossible to say how it’s going to go,”he added. “Holcim-PRB will be a weather system ahead, which is a nice place to be, but you never know. It doesn’t take much to re-group, so we’ll see how it turns out.”

The “issues” Bouttell referred to on board Mãlama included repairs to the “foil-down” lines. But Charlie Enright’s crew have escaped lightly compared to both Guyot Environnement-Team Europe, which is returning to South Africa after structural failure, and Team Malizia whose crew have carried out extensive repairs to the top of their mast.

© Antoine Auriol / Team Malizia

While Benjamin Dutreux and his bitterly disappointed crew on Guyot environnement-Team Europe plot their return to the race in Itajai in Brazil – either by crossing the Atlantic or returning to the Southern Ocean after making repairs in Cape Town – we have seen extraordinary resourcefulness on Malizia.

Herrmann and his team initially concluded they had no option but to follow Guyot environnement-Team Europe back to South Africa, when they discovered the extent of the damage to their rig when the halyard lock system failed. But then they set about solving a complex and demanding challenge, with the crew at sea and shore team working together to carry out repairs to the mast, with Will Harris working for hours at the top of the rig.

After nearly five days at sea, Malizia is now back in the race, albeit in fourth place, 572 miles behind Escoffier’s team on Holcim-PRB. On board the leading boat, we spoke to Southern Ocean debutante Tom Laperche, who talked about dealing with an entirely different set of conditions to the ones facing their pursuers.

© Julien Champolion / polaRYSE / Team Holcim-PRB

“The atmosphere on board is pretty good,”said the 25-year-old 2022 Figaro winner. “But it is difficult with the sea state we have had for the past two days and for the next two days. We are in the north of the low pressure and we have some gusts and big waves, so it is very difficult to have an average speed and to preserve the boat. We are a bit tired – we have a long way to go and I hope, in the next few days, we will be in better shape.”

Given what has happened to both Guyot environnement-Team Europe and Team Malizia, is the crew on Holcim-PRB, who also include British sailors Sam Goodchild and Abby Ehler, taking extra care with their own boat? “Before the start of this leg at Cape Town, we were very careful about the boat,” said Laperche. “We know that in this leg, the first goal is to finish and we often say that, but in this leg of this race, it is the most important element, so we don’t push a lot, we take care of the boat.”

The question now is how long Escoffier and his crew can hold onto the train that is taking them directly east…and fast. They are currently around 1,100 miles north of the Kerguelen Islands and 3,200 miles almost due west of Cape Leeuwin, on the southwest corner of Australia. Laperche is not sure what the answer to that question is.

“We will stay in this low pressure system – like four or five days – and afterwards it will be different and we will have some gybes to do and not a straight line, like today,” he said. “And yes, behind us they have fallen into the high pressure and they have a lot of light wind over the next two days, but our routing is not very clear for the next week, so I don’t know if they can come back or not.”

© Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing Team

Back on Mãlama, Bouttell has been enjoying the legendary albatrosses, wheeling above the waves, which he says is a “pretty cool” sight, but you know that he and his fellow crewmates on their Guillaume Verdier-designed foiler would give anything to be where Holcim-PRB is right now.

Ed Gorman