ALICANTE, Spain (Reuters) - Leading boats Camper and Telefonica entered the final phase of battle in the first stage of leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race with just 12 nautical miles separating them on Christmas Day after 13 days at sea.
The Spanish/New Zealand entry Camper were only just holding on, with overall leaders Telefonica making big inroads in the three hours to 1000 GMT on Sunday as the two sped towards the secret safe haven port in the Indian Ocean.
The identity of the stop-off location has been kept confidential as organizers feared an attack by pirates on the state-of-the-art boats which cost around $10 million apiece to build.
First to the port will win 24 points, with 20 going to second. Camper are three points behind Telefonica on the overall leaderboard so first place would be enough to put them in front.
Camper crew member Hamish Hooper said they were trying to concentrate on the job in hand rather than the Christmas Day festivities going on at home.
"It's Christmas Day on board Camper and unfortunately for the guys there isn't a huge amount of energy to be put into it," he said. "Not that they don't want to, they have all been up throughout the entire night frantically working our way through squall after squall in what turned out to be some very hard and bumpy conditions.
"The finish line is getting closer, and all everyone onboard Camper really cares about for Christmas is crossing it before any other boat does. Then there will be time to celebrate."
From the secret port in the Indian Ocean, the boats will be placed on an armed ship and transported to a point near Sharjah on the Northern Emirates coast. From there they will complete leg 2 into Abu Dhabi.
In all, the Volvo Ocean Race last over eight months and covers 39,000 nautical miles, visiting 10 countries.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)