Sanya, China - Camper led the Volvo Ocean Race fleet through the dangerous "black tide" current of the South China Sea on Wednesday, as the six teams made painful progress on the fourth leg to New Zealand.
The Camper boat, crewed by Team New Zealand, led Chinese Team Sanya by 5.6 nautical miles at 10:00 GMT as the boats headed east, banking on stronger breeze to get them out of the appalling sea conditions as quickly as possible.
Abu Dhabi were third, followed by French team Groupama, overall leaders Telefonica of Spain and US-based Puma in sixth.
Once they hit the Philippine Sea, they will be able to turn towards Auckland but for now the skippers are just trying to keep the boats in one piece.
Sailing through the Kuroshio current, known to sailors in the race as the "black tide" and responsible for big waves and even bigger crash landings, has long been dangerous.
"It looks like we will have more boat-breaking conditions as we reach the Taiwanese coast so we will have to tread very carefully," Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said from the boat on Wednesday.
"The landings on the waves are severe... the boat and crew are doing well but there are a couple of tricky days ahead."
Race organisers held the boats back in Sanya for over 12 hours at the start of the leg in a bid to avoid the worst of the weather and the teams were grateful not to be facing even worse conditions.
"Right now we have to get out of the South China Sea," said Abu Dhabi's British skipper Ian Walker. "It is a god-awful place. I am just glad we are not coming through here in 40 knots, which we easily could have been."
The teams are scheduled to finish the leg around March 8, though the delay at the start and the current conditions could push back their arrival into Auckland by several days.
The nine-leg Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 finishes in Galway, Ireland, in July.