Three teams have been dealt penalty points after the race jury ruled that they had infringed rules governing a traffic separation scheme off Newport at the start of Leg 7
They may have fought hard in the 2,800nm needle match across the Atlantic on Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race to gain just a single point on their arch rivals Abu Dhabi Racing, but yesterday a jury hearing at the stopover in Lisbon re-set the points difference between the leaders to that of three weeks ago by delivering a one point penalty to Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Racing.
Sam Davies’ Team SCA and Mapfre were also penalised. The penalties related to the three teams sailing the wrong way in Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) on their exit from the leg start in Newport.
Team SCA were dealt an additional point penalty for also sailing into an exclusion zone.
While far from sealing overall victory for Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Racing, the penalty is another blow to Dongfeng’s chances of overhauling the race leaders. The verdict has also pushed the team further down the overall rankings leaving the Franco/Chinese team on equal points with Brunel but sitting in third overall to Brunel given the tie breaker of the Dutch team’s better in-port racing score line.
A similar switch in fortunes has happened further down the fleet where Mapfre dropped back to 27 points, level with Team Alvimedica, with the Turkish American team moving up to fourth, courtesy of their better in-port record.
The decision is bound to be a controversial one with some claiming that the rules were not clear.
Both MAPFRE and Dongfeng Race Team witnesses said that recently introduced guidelines of sailing in TSS zones had confused sailors and that improvements needed to be made in the future to assist crews from inadvertently breaking sailing rules.
In her evidence to the jury, Team SCA skipper Sam Davies said that the breech, ‘gave us no advantage, it was an honest mistake,’ and that, ‘There was no shipping in the vicinity at the time, so no safety issue.’
This is not the first time that TSS avoidance has cropped up in the Volvo Ocean Race, nor is it simply an issue for this race. With some of the season’s offshore classics such as the Cowes-St Malo and Fastnet races requiring fleets to negotiate various TSS, the issue as to whether forcing a fleet to sail around the edge of an exclusion zone only to appear en masse at the entrance or exits is a help or hindrance to commercial shipping, is a debate that will doubtless rear its head again elsewhere in offshore racing circles.
But for the time being, the Volvo Ocean Race jury verdict has tightened the competition for all but the race leader as the event prepares to set out on the last two legs of the race.
Leg 8 from Lisbon to Lorient starts on Sunday 7 June.
Total points after leg 7
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 16
Team Brunel, 22
Dongfeng Race Team, 22
Team Alvimedica, 27
Team SCA, 43
Team Vestas Wind, 52