The top four boats in the Volvo Ocean Race were bunched within one nautical mile of each other late yesterday afternoon as they battled a 10-knot headwind for much of the day.
The race fleet, which left Cape Town on Sunday, were working their way up the South African coast towards Port Elizabeth, early in the three-week journey to Abu Dhabi.
Camper/Emirates Team New Zealand held the lead, but were closely pursued by Puma Ocean Racing, Groupama and Team Sanya.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam were in fifth, about six miles back, and Telefonica was last, trailing far behind.
The strategy seems to be to stay close to the coast and sail east-northeast as fast as possible to connect with a new low-pressure system building close to Durban, which will create fresh westerly breeze close to the coast.
The boats at the back of the fleet will have to push hard to prevent being left behind, as every mile of separation will be multiplied by a factor of two or three once the leaders get closer to the low.
Will Oxley, the Camper navigator, said there were plenty of opportunities for the lead to change hands as the weather promised to be anything but stable over the next 24 hours.
"This leg is looking like a minefield, loads of very light and tricky weather patterns to negotiate," he said.
"We just need to remain alert and focused on the job of getting to our destination first."
Oxley said the route the fleet is taking so far on this leg is unknown territory for him but says the benign conditions of the first two days could soon come to an end as the boats face the opposing forces of strong westerly winds and the notorious Agulhas Current.
"It's pretty unusual to be tacking down this South African coast. I have certainly never done it,'' he said. "There is a whole series of lows around Africa right now and we are expecting one to come off the land and out on to the water.
"If you are on the back of it you have a south westerly wind which could be 30 to 35 knots. Then you have a current that is opposing it and that could mean six metre waves, which would be pretty unpleasant.
"The Agulhas is notorious for that sort of sea state as soon as the breeze comes up - and we will try to avoid it."
The fleet is expected to start to feel the first Agulhas effects today, before which the skippers and navigators will have hoped to work out the narrowest crossing point to avoid sailing in these potentially boat-breaking conditions any longer than necessary.
Once safely through the Agulhas the fleet could be in for some high speed sailing as two low pressure systems merge south-east of Africa creating a 35 to 40 knot westerly wind high-speed superhighway across the Indian Ocean.
This front is predicted to move easterly in conjunction with the fleet and could create the opportunity for an IWC Schaffhausen 24 hour Speed Record Challenge attempt.
The latest weather synopsis is creating sense of urgency for fifth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and tailenders Team Telefonica who will have to fight hard to close down the gap on the leaders as they head towards the powerful low, or run the risk being left behind.