The Henri Lloyd Hobart to Whitsundays Race has been a week-long ‘sprint’ of tight unrelenting match racing over 1600 nautical miles which is going down to the wire with GREAT Britain attempting to out race LMAX Exchange just 0.7nM ahead as at 0800 UTC (1800 local) Saturday 9 January 2016.

“It's been a good race but it's not over yet,” proclaims GREAT Britain Skipper Peter Thornton. “LMAX Exchange is less than a nautical mile ahead of us, Garmin is just 7nM behind, and with all of us heading for a tricky island passage as it gets dark, it is going to be a tense night. We will see what happens.”

LMAX Exchange Skipper Olivier Cardin recognises it’s too close to call: “The match race we are doing for the last 48 hours is just crazy. We never went ahead or behind more than two miles from GREAT Britain…The finish between the little islands and strong current will be very tricky. Impossible to know who will cross the line first.”

The fleet has spread out a little over the last 24 hours but two other teams are also duelling for a points advantage: Unicef hopes to hang onto sixth place just over 1 nM ahead of IchorCoal.

“Dawn saw us still in the company of Skipper Darren Ladd and his IchorCoal team,” reported Unicef Skipper Martin Clough. “A visiting cloud helped us work below them but when two islands got in our way we tightened up to clear them and merged in slightly ahead…the Unicef team is now trying to fend off IchorCoal's attacks!”

Further back in tenth and eleventh respectively, PSP Logistics has been keeping its eye on Visit Seattle, as Skipper Max Stunell explained: “This race isn't over yet as every time I look over my shoulder the ‘Seattlites’ are there and we know they will be pushing all the way to the line. Having had a few crew losses in Hobart I have been very impressed with how my crew have stepped up and filled those gaps.” PSP Logistics has since opened up a seven mile lead.

The tactical challenge of the last closing miles was described by ClipperTelemed+ Skipper Matt Mitchell: “From what I can see there are two main options, either cutting between the Whitsunday Islands through the channel there, or go the marginally longer route around the outside…This morning we have opted for the outside route, I wasn't convinced of the reliability of the wind in the passage and all the pilot books were warning of strong tidal flow, especially on the ebb tide, as well as back eddies, meaning big problems could occur if the island blocks the wind.”

Garmin’s Ash Skett was in a more reflective mood sitting in third place: “The main thing for us now is to defend our position, not make any mistakes and pray for no breakages. With Airlie Beach just around the next corner, it's time to reflect on what has really been a race of two halves. The blast up the coast of New South Wales, although exhilarating at times and lightning fast, was also very challenging and pushed the crew to near breaking-point.

“Mercifully, as we crossed into the waters of Queensland, the wind settled and veered to a much more gentlemanly angle and the sailing towards the end of this race could not have been smoother.”

Not many crew (or spectators for that matter) will have any nails left after all the frantic biting that’s been going on! The top five teams are within 30nM of each other with the leaders expected to cross the line 2100-2200 local time (1100-1200 UTC). Eleven yachts are due into Abell Point Marina by mid-day Sunday local time. Mission Performance is expected to complete the line up in Airlie Beach late Sunday evening.

All positions in this report were correct as at 0800 UTC. Follow the final miles by staying tuned to the Race Viewer.

Latest ETAs to Airlie Beach - but please note that teams are due in the marina approximately one hour after they cross the finish line.

If this has whet your appetite and you would like to join the crew on a future edition of the Clipper Race please contact our recruitment team for more information.

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