Cape Town - French team Groupama capitalised on Sanya's enforced pit stop in the Volvo Ocean Race on Tuesday, forging a significant lead just as the teams were preparing to enter an anti-piracy stealth zone.
Groupama took over the lead on day 10 of the second leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, 24 hours after Sanya were forced to head for port with a rigging failure.
Franck Cammas, skipper of the first French entry in the race in 18 years, had clear blue water between his boat and the chasing pack, with their lead at 11:00 GMT up to 17.5 nautical miles and still growing.
"There are lots of smiles on the faces when the position reports come in now," said Cammas, whose team finished third in the first leg after a tactical gamble that did not pay off as well.
"We have not rested since the start of the leg and we are gaining step by step."
Cammas said the crew were wearing helmets because of low visibility as the boat sped along at 20 knots.
"On deck, it's wet and you need the helmet because otherwise it's impossible to see the bow," he said.
Groupama are being chased by overall leaders Telefonica of Spain, American boat Puma and Spanish/New Zealand entry Camper.
Abu Dhabi are further back in fifth, while former leaders Sanya have arrived at Madagascar, where they will repair the rigging before rejoining the race.
The teams have less than two days' sailing before they reach a stealth zone drawn up by the organisers as part of their anti-piracy measures.
While in the zone, the public will not be given detailed information about their positions, with only their distance relative to each other being made known.
The fleet is heading towards an undisclosed safe haven port, where the boats will be loaded onto a ship for transport through the worst of the piracy-affected waters in the Indian Ocean.
The race will resume with a day-long sprint from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi in early January.