Fewer than 10 nautical miles separated the Volvo Ocean Race fleet yesterday as the crews looked for every edge they could to find a bit of speed.
Puma Ocean Racing held a one-mile lead over Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, and Chris Nicholson, the Camper skipper, said his team were making tiny tweaks to their dagger boards, water ballast tanks, sheeting angles and weight distribution below deck in a bid to gain speed.
"We're actually just subtly changing all of those things as the wind speed increases," he said. "It's all the kind of things you do in a dinghy, only on a larger scale.
"They are millimetre changes. We need to adjust things enough to see a difference, and then look at the instruments and go by feel as to whether it's good or bad. In the last six hours even I'm pretty pleased that we've made some inroads."
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were in fifth place, and Ian Walker, the skipper, said his team were having trouble keeping up with the fleet, despite coming in on winning form having won the first stage of Leg 3 and the in-port race.
"Right now it is a drag race across the southern tip of Sri Lanka with every boat sailing within one or two degrees of each other and nobody having yet tacked," Walker said.
"Sadly, it is a drag race which we are struggling to compete in.
"We are trying every possible trim or sail configuration to try and match the boats around us but we are yet to find fifth gear."
Ken Read, the Puma skipper, said it was his team's early move to the north of the course that was paying dividends, but he wasn't taking his lead for granted.
"Everyone is spread out and there appears to be very little speed difference between the fleet at this point,'' he said.
"Seeing what we see right now, this race will restart about 10 times in the Malacca Strait, a notoriously fickle place to sail. Things look good now, but it is early days. There is a lot to come our way on this leg, that is for sure."
The fleet's speed was slowly increasing yesterday as they escaped the 200 nautical mile wind shadow cast by Sri Lanka and revelled in freshening monsoon winds that will tend north-northeast in the next 24 hours.
Gonzalo Infante, the Volvo Ocean Race meteorologist, said the wind would build to 15 to 20 knots as it clocked left and pack plenty of squalls. "The conditions will be more favourable for the boats further north," he said.