Abu Dhabi and Dongfeng have been locked in a match race across the South Atlantic. Matthew Sheahan reports from Cape Town on one of the closest finishes in the history of the race
The end of one of the tightest needle matches in the Volvo Ocean Race is about to come to a close, at least for the leaders who at 0340 UTC this morning had just over 100 nm miles to go.
At around three hours before the finish the online tracker and TV will go live for the first arrivals from 1000 UTC.
Given the close competition at the front of the fleet and the notorious vagaries of the wind on the approach to the finish in Cape Town, this will be one to watch, especially as the match race to the finish is due to happen at around lunchtime.
Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Racing continues to hold onto a narrow lead of just a few miles over Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Racing, a situation that has stretched and shrunk for days if not weeks and has kept both teams afloat and ashore chewing their finger nails.
In his latest report this morning Walker said:
“Looks like we have survived last night’s attack. After gybing down to cover Dongfeng they waited until dark then gybed away themselves. We decided to let them go to try to gain more miles and after a bit of toing and froing in clouds and one big light air transition, it looks like we have made some nice gains.
“We are now sailing into building wind and have nearly doubled our lead and pulled some bearing. We have just over 100 miles to go so should finish in about 8 hours (just after lunch). It should pay to be in front and to windward where we are. We have a couple of sail changes to do, a few clouds to negotiate and then the biggest hurdle could be the hole in the lee of Table Mountain at the end.
“This leg is certainly not over until you have crossed the line. Fingers crossed things turn out as intended. Looking forward to being on land soon.”
The, just half an hour later Walker confirmed why everyone on their team is on edge.
“Lots of big white clouds sucking the wind away and hearts were racing as the wind dropped to 4 knots for us and boatspeed halved. Dongfeng sailed into the back of us by a few miles but as we came out the other side we have extended again slightly.”
The opening leg of the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race has been an extraordinary affair with some of the closest racing the event has seen since the days of the Volvo 60s twelve years ago. Whatever the result between the leading two, today will come as a huge relief to the organisers who invested heavily in their controversial move to switch the game to strict one designs. Not only have the boats delivered a competitive platform, but aside from a few breakages, the opening leg will see all the boats that started the leg from Alicante arrive in Cape Town under their own steam.
But as with every opening leg of this race, while some will be celebrating their success, others will see big changes. As the stress and tension of the last few weeks boils over.
For days rumours have been doing the rounds here in Cape Town that Iker Martinez’ Mapfre will see some major changes in the crew following their disastrous showing in this leg. The most recent comment off the boat seems to support this.
“It’s probably not the moment to ask what’s happening, nor why are things not working out for MAPFRE,” said on board reporter Francisco Vignale from their position at the back of the fleet, 485 miles behind the leaders.
“We have to finish this leg the best way we can, reach land and then adjust what needs to be adjusted.”
Sounds like a trailer for the BBC reality show The Apprentice. I wonder who Lord Sugar will point his finger at?