Bouwe Bekking's Team Brunel wins the double-points Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, and Team Scallywag vows to resume racing
In what has been one of the most challenging Volvo Ocean Race stages of recent editions, Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel took the double-points Leg 7 win from Dongfeng Race Team.
Bekking, who is competing in his eighth Volvo Ocean Race, held his nerve to skipper Brunel to a nail-biting win over Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Race Team. After racing nearly 7,800 nautical miles over 16 days, the margin at the finish between the two boats was less than 15 minutes as the breeze shut down on the final approach to Itajaí.
Over the final 30 miles of racing the two boats were separated by just two miles, with boat speeds dropping to just over 1 knot. The final outcome seemed to rest on a zephyr, but in a well-timed improvement in form, Brunel scored their first podium finish with a first place in the double-points Southern Ocean leg.
After starting from Auckland, New Zealand, Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race took the teams deep into the South Pacific, with an amended Ice Exclusion Zone set at far south as 60-degrees south latitude.
The Southern Ocean stages dealt the teams relentlessly challenging sailing conditions, with steady gale force winds of 30-35 knots, and 4 to 6 metre seas for days on end in the ‘Furious Fifties’. Temperatures plummeted to just above freezing and snow on deck was a frequent occurrence. Experienced Volvo Race sailors such as Simon Fisher on Vestas 11th Hour Racing commented that it was the toughest stage they had seen for several years.
As the boats gybed along the Ice Exclusion Zone, Brunel emerged with a 20-mile lead, a lead they nursed all the way to the finish line in Brazil.
The brutality of the Southern Ocean environment was brought home on day ten of racing, when Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag reported the loss of crewmate John Fisher overboard.
The tragic loss of John Fisher at sea affected every crew. As the teams rounded Cape Horn many paid tribute to a much-liked member of the Volvo Ocean Race family.
Speaking to the media after crossing the finish line, a visibly emotional Bekking said: “The whole team are deeply touched by the loss of their opponent and fellow sailor, John Fisher, who went overboard last week on Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag.”
“Although we have won the leg, the team aren’t in a mood to party, which is understandable. The loss of John Fisher has been felt deeply by everyone. Nevertheless, it was a great feeling to finish in first place.”
Brunel’s leg win means the team has collected all 16 points available for this leg (14 for winning the double-point leg, a one point bonus for Cape Horn and a one point leg win bonus) and nearly doubled its point total from 20 to 36 points.
“We always wanted to aim for the maximum points this leg, as it means we would most likely be top three [overall],” Bekking said. “From now on it will be a matter of just chipping away. We’ve seen stranger things happen in the past in this race so I think we’re now in great shape to go for the finish in The Hague.”
Team AkzoNobel completed the podium, finishing two days after the leaders in third.
For Dongfeng, a 2nd place finish and 12 points won may be enough to take the overall lead from Mapfre, who have led the race overall since Leg 2.
Mapfre paused racing for 13 hours shortly after rounding Cape Horn to repair damage to their mast track and a luff-to-leech mainsail tear.
Team Vestas 11th Hour Racing was also forced to retire after being dismasted some 100 miles south of the Falkland Islands, they now have a race against time to make the delivery to Itajaí in time to step a new mast and be ready to restart Leg 8. They were not the only ones to suffer damage during the punishing stage;. Turn the Tide on Plastic had to slow at one stage to repair spreader damage, while Team AkzoNobel also had to contain a leak to their keel box.
After returning to the race, Mapfre is currently in 5th place, some 200 miles behind Turn the Tide on Plastic and still with over 600 miles of racing to go. AkzoNobel looks set to finish in 3rd place, while both Scallywag and Vestas 11th Hour Racing have retired from this leg.
“It’s a fantastic result for us. We have managed to come back into Mapfre after plenty of frustration on the previous legs,” said Dongfeng skipper Caudrelier. “This time we’ve managed to keep them back and far away and if Turn the Tide on Plastic can hold on we have a chance to take the overall lead.
“But the first thing was to finish the leg with everyone on board and safe,” Caudrelier continued. “Of course we are thinking about what happened to Scallywag and John Fisher… I’m so sad for his family and the whole Scallywag team. That is a fantastic team and they lost one of their own.”
Sun Hung Kai Scallywag safely made landfall in Puerto Montt in southern Chile on Tuesday 3rd March, and this afternoon announced that they intended to resume racing for Leg 8, from Itajaí to Newport, Rhode Island.
In a statement posted on social media, skipper David Witt wrote: ‘Our delivery crew have arrived and we are now in a race against the clock to make the start in Brazil for the next leg. We are all hurt but we are not out!! Scallywags never ever give up!!
‘We will make the start, we will look after each other, we will finish the race and do the best job we can for all Scallywags in John’s memory and honor.
‘On behalf of all the team I would like to thank all our supporters for all the messages of support it has helped us enormously in this difficult time.’
John Fisher, 1970-2018
In the days following the loss of John Fisher, many members of the sailing community around the world shared their memories of him.
One such tribute came from his local sailing club in Adelaide, Christies SC. The club posted online:
‘John came to our club around 10 years ago and immediately injected his passion for the sport of sailing which was picked up by all of our sailing members, especially our juniors. It soon became evident that this man could sail a bath tub with a handkerchief as a sail and could still out-sail anyone.
‘His passion for all forms of racing was insatiable and his love for offshore racing was infectious to the point that we all believed that we all could do it. Unfortunately, only an elite few can.
‘Although John was one of the top sailors in the world, he was not an elitist, he chose our club to sail at as it fitted with his passions: family, sailing, and lifelong friendships.
‘John had raced in the Fastnet, Sydney to Hobart and Trans Pac, in fact almost every major regatta around the globe, but the Volvo Ocean Race was his holy grail. He told us that he used to watch the Volvo (Whitbread as it was formally known) leave Southampton from where he grew up and thought “One day I will do that race”.
‘John had great love and compassion for his family, a man of his word, a true gentleman in every sense and the camaraderie that he showed for all that sailed with him was extraordinary.
‘In our club John will be sadly missed for his infectious personality, his love and passion for the sport and his wealth of expertise. He was a true friend. He has enriched our club and we are blessed to have shared in his life.’