ALICANTE, Spain (AP) Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing snatched the leg four lead of the Volvo Ocean Race on Sunday after multiple changes in the fleet's placings over the last 24 hours.
The lead changed hands three times since Saturday morning as Team Brunel (Netherlands), Dongfeng Race Team (China) and then Abu Dhabi turns at the head of the six-strong fleet on the 5,264-nautical mile route from China to New Zealand.
Any one of the boats could still take victory in Auckland, however, with just 8 nautical miles separating the first three boats and less than 65 nautical miles from first to last with just over 1,500 nautical miles still to sail in the fourth stage of nine in the race.
At 0940 GMT on Sunday, Abu Dhabi, which is second overall after three legs of the nine-month offshore race, led by just 3.5 nautical miles from MAPFRE with overall event leaders, Dongfeng, just 0.7 nautical miles behind the second-placed Spanish boat.
The joint U.S. and Turkish entry of Team Alvimedica was also handily placed in fourth, 8 nautical miles behind Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi.
Brunel, meanwhile, had slipped back to fifth place, 27.3 nautical miles adrift of the leader, with all-female Team SCA (Sweden) bringing up the rear.
Walker wrote in a message from his boat, Azzam: ''What a crazy night! Huge clouds, loads of rain, massive gains and losses - leg four has just been reset.
''Now we find ourselves sailing in 20 knots more wind than forecast and literally ripping towards Auckland. As fast as we make plans in the navigation station, we are having to tear them up and start again.''
Abu Dhabi trailed Dongfeng by just one point before the start of the leg on Feb. 8 from Sanya on the southernmost point of China, with Team Brunel in third overall, four points behind the Chinese team.
The navigators had thought they would be entering a windless area of Doldrums in the middle of the Pacific Ocean this weekend, but in fact the pressure has been conducive to fast, 20-plus knot sailing.
The boats are forecast to arrive in Auckland around Feb. 27-March 1, depending on conditions.
In all, the event will cover 38,739 nautical miles and visit 11 ports and every continent. It is scheduled to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27.