As Team Brunel crossed the finishing line in Lisbon early this morning to take their second leg victory of the Volvo Ocean Race, skipper Bowe Bekking was clearly very pleased at the end of what he had earlier described as a memorable leg.
“Last night we saw 24 knots but that was it,” he said. “The rest of the time it was a cruise across the Atlantic in nice flat water. But the racing has been intense from day one which is why this will be a memorable leg. It’s nice to put a win into the books.”
Mapfre’s skipper Iker Martinez was also pretty happy at scoring a second place, their third podium position of the race. It was Team Alvimedica’s third podium place too.
But it was all three podium placings that were causing Dongfeng Racing’s skipper Charles Caudrelier so much stress as the sun rose for the leg finish.
“I am really upset about me this morning,” he declared moments after crossing the line. “The team has a really good spirit but I did not and I have to apologise to them. I was too nervous to make the big move and I made a huge mistake.”
Just a few days earlier, with his team in the lead and with Abu Dhabi Racing lying fifth, finishing in this order would have hacked four points out of the six point difference between the two leading boats in the series.
But, having led out of the tricky Azores high, a critical phase in the race, Caudrelier’s team were then overtaken by Team Brunel and Mapfre. On the final few hours during the approach to the finish the news got worse for the Franco/Chinese team as Team Alvimedica came from behind and sailed around Dongfeng to take third place by 55 seconds.
With Dongfeng finishing fourth, their overall points deficit to Abu Dhabi had been reduced by just one point. Now, with just two short legs to the finish in Gothenburg remaining there may still be 14 points left on the table, but Caudrelier knows that his climb up the mountain to overall victory has just got even steeper.
“It was a leg that we imagined we could win at one point,” he explained. “I think we sailed well and did well to get around the outside of the high pressure, but in the end it was a question of wind rather than boat speed.
“The result was that we went from within a few points of Abu Dhabi to losing three points to Brunel. We missed a good chance on this leg.”
Abu Dhabi’s skipper Ian Walker saw the situation much the same way but with a very different outcome. While he might have been disappointed to finish so far down the pack in fifth, he had only lost a point to his nearest rivals.
“We got away with it,” he admitted. “A few days ago it looked certain that Dongfeng would win and that we would lose a lot of points. But what this leg confirms is that the only thing that is certain is that anyone can be first or last.”
So now with just a five point lead and two short tactical legs to follow, how did he feel about his team’s chances of staying in front?
“It’s [winning] very much in our hands,” he said. “Our leg was lost when we were very slow VMG running along the bottom of the ice gate. That’s something that has been one of our weaknesses for some time and we’ve got to come up with some answers. But then we’re rocket ship quick in fast reaching and usually you would expect the next leg to include some stronger upwind sailing.”
With the potential for the weather to stir things up and a re-shuffling of the overall points after this transatlantic leg, the competition for the podium has spiced up with Team Brunel now lying just one point behind Dongfeng. But there’s another issue that could stir things up and see sparks fly before the boats set off for Lorient – Penalties.
Shortly after the start of this last leg from Newport the race committee protested three teams, Mapfre, Dongfeng and Team SCA for infringements of a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) and an exclusion zone.
If the teams are found to have broken the rules in these areas, what penalties will the jury dish out? Points?
If they do, and there are those feel strongly that points should be the price that teams pay for such infringements, the points board could see another shuffling of the pack – just as things were getting tighter and the runway for the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race is getting shorter.