The American team Puma survived a collision with a tree trunk to move into a three-way battle for the lead while the Team New Zealand boat Camper fell back as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet picked a precarious route through the Malacca Strait.
With over 1,500 nautical miles (2,800 km) sailed in the second stage of Leg 3 from the Maldives to China, just a handful of boat lengths separated overall leaders Telefonica, Groupama and Puma.
All three were in sight of each other as they tried to steer a path through the hundreds of commercial ships and fishing boats in the narrow Strait, as well as hunks of floating debris.
Camper, who are Telefonica's closest challengers overall in the 39,000 nm (72,000 km) round the world race, are stuck in the second group of boats after misjudging the breeze.
They are around 50 miles behind along with team Abu Dhabi.
The leaders have around 200 miles to sail to get out of the Strait and head into a long closing stretch through the South China Sea to Sanya.