However, as Stuart Alexander reports from Fremantle, the real racing is taking place down the fleet.
A battle royal is looming between Britain's Lawrie Smith on Silk Cut and the American Paul Cayard, who replaced him on the Swedish yacht EF Language, as the pair career at breakneck speed through the Southern Ocean.
The two were just 22 miles apart yesterday, with Smith - averaging 18 knots - having put in a run of 431.5 miles in 24 hours, just three miles outside a world record.
Cayard, meanwhile, had survived the effects of a wave which picked up some sails stowed on the deck and "wiped out the back half of the lifelines and stanchions on the port side." They lost one sail overboard and are now having to stow the others below, which is making conditions in the cabin extremely wet. The sail was not the only casualty, another unexpected wave having snapped a spinnaker pole.
Both boats are sailing deep to the south, but are expected to go north of the Kerguelen Islands, along with the rest of the six yachts trying to catch up with the three leading yachts on the 4,600 second leg from Cape Town to Fremantle.
A quiet little cloud of anger hangs over Grant Dalton in Merit Cup, dumped in eighth place by being too far north to take advantage of the weather systems. However, he has the all-woman crew of EF Education six miles ahead and with only 118 miles between fourth-placed Cayard and the last boat, Hans Bouscholte's Brunel Sunergy, there is still plenty of time to move up the fleet in the remaining 2,500 miles.
Swedish Match has sat at the head of the fleet for the last nine days, with skipper Gunnar Krantz still enjoying a near 300-mile lead on the second-placed Knut Frostad on Innovation Kvaerner, and 450-plus on Paul Standbridge's third- placed Toshiba.
Krantz predicts that the fleet will now enjoy good wind almost all the way into Fremantle, and he should arrive a little warmer than of late following the crew's success in repairing the heater on Swedish Match. Krantz, however, is aware that there is always the possibility of a concertina effect in a high pressure zone off western Australia which could allow the chasing pack to close up.
So far, breakages have been neither life-threatening nor costly in terms of position. Silk Cut, like EF Language, has had stanchions and lifelines damaged, and mainsail battens broken. "The front of the boat disappeared into a wave at well over 25 knots," the navigator, Steve Hayles, said. "A solid wall of water swept aft, leaving the sails hanging over the side. This was a major situation as losing the whole lot meant losing the whole race. "
The crew decided not to slow the boat and managed to wrestle the dragging sails below.
"No one was rushing to slow down. We were running faster than anyone and we didn't want to give away the miles," Hayles said.
The list of damaged boats includes Kvaerner (bow), Swedish Match (broken steering wheel), Brunel (snapped rudder cable) and Chessie Racing (scuffed keel, possibly after hitting a whale).
Now that the entire fleet is hitting high speeds, more gear breakage is expected. The shore crews already trickling into Fremantle know that they will have a lot of work to do and that their pit stopover time is likely to be cut by two or three days. Only Swedish Match is on schedule to complete the leg in 16 days. There will be little time for relaxation.
WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (second leg, 4,600 miles, Cape Town to Fremantle): Latest positions: 1 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz 2,092 miles to finish; 2 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 291 miles behind; 3 Toshiba (US) P Standbridge 466; 4 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard 630; 5 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith 652; 6 Chessie Racing (US) M Fischer 668; 7 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou 725; 8 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton 731; 9 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) H Bouscholte 748.Reuse content