Puma in StealthPlay mode for Sunday finish

Slowly getting more breeze and higher waves. Had big gains during the night. Eager to get back in the game

As Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA), racing in leg one of the Volvo Ocean Race, continued her record-breaking dash towards the finish in Cape Town, at 01:00 GMT this morning, the black cat, PUMA (Ken Read/USA) went into StealthPlay, and hid from the rest of the fleet for 12 hours.

'This is a pretty intense time for us,' said Ericsson 4’s bowman, Phil Jameson when PUMA ‘disappeared’. 'There’s nothing we can do about it except sail our boat as best we can,' he said.

Appearing back on the chart, at 13:00 GMT today, PUMA’s track shows that she had gone hard north, searching for more wind. 'We have an Ericsson 4 to kill and a fleet to keep away,' wrote French watch captain, Sidney Gavignet this morning, half way through the cat’s StealthPlay.

Currently, PUMA is still sailing at 22 knots, matching Ericsson 4’s speed, but 92 nm to the north, and showing a loss of 10 nm to the leading boat in the last three hours. Still in second place, she is 76 nm behind Ericsson 4, who has 605 nm to go to the finish. Weather-routeing software is predicting a finish for Ericsson in Cape Town of around 09:00 GMT on Sunday.

For much of this leg PUMA has been effectively two-boat tuning with Ericsson 4, something that this American campaign has not had the chance to do prior to the start of the race. 'This has been a fantastic ‘lab’ to get the last few missing knots out il Mostro,' claims Gavignet. 'Close contact has been our best friend,' he said.

During the last three hours, all seven boats have made losses against Ericsson 4. Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) brings up the rear with 596 nm to run to Cape Town, but, according to her crew, her emergency rudder is working so well they were able to spend the night racing at a reasonable speed, considering the circumstances.

The fleet is spread north/south across a front of 565nm. Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) are down to 35 degrees south, and Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) is further south still. Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE) sits midway between the two groups.

Telefónica Blue is planning a brief dip to 40 degrees south. It is already starting to get cold for the crew of the blue Spanish boat and will get colder still. The inside of the boat is covered with a layer of condensation and everything the crew touches is wet. 'Gloves and hats are now the order of the day upstairs, and even in the nav station, the shorts and t-shirts have been swapped for thermals and a jacket,' says navigator Simon Fisher/GBR.

Cold means ‘albatross’ territory and the magnificent birds have been spotted by several boats. The crew of Telefónica Black reported seeing see two birds soaring round the boat for several hours. This team needs luck now, and the albatross is considered by seafarers to be a good omen. 'Let’s hope so,' says MCM Mikel Pasabant. 'What is true is the magnificence of these birds flying. Amazing,' he said today.

The crew of Delta Lloyd (Ger O’Rourke/IRL) has also had some flying visitors. Navigator, Matt Gregory/USA, was released from the nav station briefly and given the helm. 'I pushed the throttle through the floorboards as hard as I could,' he says. 'Then, as if I couldn’t be having more fun, this morning became legendary as an albatross pulled up along side us. She glided, without a single flap of her wings, only 50 metres away, for 20 minutes. This is the first one I’ve ever seen. Overwhelmed with excitement, I realised ‘this is just about as good as it gets’.

Telefónica Blue spotted their first albatross today too – a sign that they are getting further south. 'It would have been three years since I last saw one of these birds but they still look just as amazing with their massive wingspan soaring above the waves,' wrote Simon Fisher a few moments ago.

'The sun is shining, the wind has eased a little and the waves are just that little bit smaller, so everything on Telefónica Blue today is a little bit easier,' he said.

Volvo Ocean Race Positions - Leg One Friday, Day 21 - 13:00 GMT

1 Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 605
2 PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +76
3 Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +312
4 Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +359
5 Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +447
6 Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +533
7 Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O’Rourke/IRL) +540
8 Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +596