Sanya - French team Groupama were leading rivals Puma and Telefonica by just over 80 nautical miles on Saturday with some 2 000 miles left to sail to New Zealand in the Volvo Ocean Race.
The six skippers were split evenly down the middle over the key strategic decision whether to sail through or around the Solomon Islands on the way to Auckland from southern China on leg four.
Overall race leaders Telefonica, Camper and Team Sanya all decided to pick their way through the archipelago while farther east Groupama, Puma and Abu Dhabi headed round the southeast tip.
Amory Ross on board Puma defended his decision.
"We've got a better angle to the finish and we're closer. They've got stronger winds but are sailing towards unknown waters, including uncharted passages, mystery currents, and unpredictable winds," he said.
"Weather, navigation, boat handling, and decision-making are all paramount over the next week."
On Telefonica, skipper Iker Martinez said he had convened an "emergency" meeting of the crew to weigh up their options before heading for the middle of the Solomons.
On Camper crewed by Team New Zealand, navigator Will Oxley confirmed Chris Nicholson's crew had now made their mind up to go for the gap too. "There are no half measures now," Oxley said.
Telefonica (Spain) 101 points, Camper (Spain/New Zealand) 83, Groupama (France) 73, Puma (USA) 53, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 43, Team Sanya (China) 17.