No one expected the VOR to be as close as this. By the end of leg 2 over the weekend, the leading three boats were at the top on equal points.

With the change to a strict one design came the promise of close racing for the 2014/14 Volvo Ocean Race, but no one expected it to be so close as this. By the end of leg 2 over the weekend, the leading three boats were on equal points.

On Saturday Bowe Bekking’s Team Brunel won leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi finishing just 16 minutes ahead of Dongfeng Racing Team after more than 23 days of racing on a leg that was 5,185 miles long. The Dutch team had finished third into Cape Town.

“It is a good feeling,” he said. “I’ve always said, it’s better to be lucky than good but we’ve been good this leg as well so it’s so nice to win this one because it could have been an easy leg to finish last. It’s just really nice to get the scores but the team did a fantastic job, we sailed the boat much better than in the first leg.”

The Franco/Chinese performance led by Charles Caudrelier is impressive for two reasons in particular, the first being his team’s consistency, they were second on the opening leg by a similarly close margin as Abu Dhabi took the opening leg win. The second is in combining inexperience with more decorated offshore sailors aboard a boat that has no space for passengers. At the start of the race few would have given this team odds on kicking off their campaign with this much speed.

But early success had raised hopes in this team. After the finish of the first leg several of the other competitors were talking of Dongfeng’s impressive speed. Several were trying to figure out how Caudrelier’s team was finding the pace and shortly before the start at least one had mentioned that they knew the Franco/Chinese secret. Yet Caudrelier seemed more disappointed at the end of Leg 2 than you might have expected. It seemed the boot was now on the other foot.

“Brunel have been much faster than us since a few days and we don’t know why,” he said. “We’re a bit disappointed because we did a good job to pass them, but they keep passing us. You have to do well, but you also have to be fast. If you’re not fast, it’s difficult to win a leg.

“We’re not so happy [about second]. We always want to improve, but for sure it’s good news for Dongfeng. We try to do the leg and try to improve it every leg. We showed that we can play the match with the best, and we’re proud of that.”

But when it came to disappointment Iain Walker did well to mask his as the team came third into the UAE finish. Setting out as race favourites Abu Dhabi had won the opening leg and had leg for a good chunk of Leg 2. Leading not their home port would have felt particularly sweet. Instead they were third having trailed Dongfeng by just 10 miles.

Behind the podium places there was a bigger gap before Mapfre finished followed by Alvimedica and Team SCA.

The leg was one of high drama when Team Vestas Wind ran onto a reef leaving the crew shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean, 200 miles to the north east of Mauritius. While the team looks to ways of getting back into the race there would appear to be no chance of Nicholson’s team playing a competitive part in the race reducing the fleet to just six. (The Feb 15 issue of YW that is published early January carries a detailed report and analysis on how Vestas managed to be wrecked on the reef and what we can all learn from the mistake.)

But aside from the scores on the board and more evidence to suggest that this will be the closest Volvo Ocean Race for many years if not ever, there are a number of other issues that are becoming clear.

One is that there appears to be a split in the fleet between those that can and those that are playing catch up. The podium places so far are sailing in a different league to the other three and have once again stretched out well in front.

Having spent time talking to each of the crews in Cape Town at the end of leg 1 it was clear that there are some differences in how the teams are set up and how they divvy up the responsibilities now the total crew list is down to 8 (for the men). The more radical changes to the set up are aboard these leading three boats where the conventional approach of taking a skipper and navigator out of the watch has been abandoned – with eight crew handling a seriously powerful boat, when the breeze is up there is no spare capacity. On the top three boats almost everyone drives. At the end of the legs navigators have the blisters to prove it. As Simon Fisher (Sci-Fi) said to me after leg 1 as he raised his peeled and blistered hands, ‘this doesn’t happen on a laptop!’

Decisions need to be made more quickly and frequently on less data than before. In addition the close nature of the racing makes this more of an inshore race conducted day after day over thousands of miles. Those like Walker and Caudrelier were brought up on close one design racing. They have a clear advantage in being able to think on their feet and make judgments based on simple visualisations and gut feeling if required.

There are also differences in the way that the watch system operates aboard the boats. In the Jan 15 issue of YW we take a close look at the variety of approaches and the relationship between the key players.

And while the race is only two legs in plenty could change, it is starting to look possible that the in-port racing, that no longer counts for points, could become the deciding factor if there is a draw at the end of the race. That in itself will start to influence how teams plan their campaign from here on in.