The Volvo Ocean Race is set up for a fairytale finish, the closest in its history - but the real magic is how we've been able to watch it unfold live
There was a moment during yesterday’s live broadcast from the Volvo Ocean Race final day that left the normally loquacious commentator Conrad Colman momentarily lost for words. I gasped watching.
It was the moment the helicopter hovered next to Dongfeng Race Team, but as the camera panned out you could see Turn the Tide on Plastic nose to nose with the red boat. It was a single shot which said so much – about the incredible tension there must have been onboard Dongfeng as they fought desperately to cling to their lead, about the equal fight Turn the Tide were putting up, scrapping for every place.
It captured the two ends of the spectrum of this epic race, the immaculately prepared, hugely experienced, two-race campaign of Dongfeng being challenged hard by the late entry with the mixed experience, gender balanced crew flying their environmental message.
Dongfeng came into this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race as one of the fastest boats with hours of preparation behind them. Turn the Tide on Plastic have been learning every mode, every set-up, every trick and tweak out on the racecourse. As the camera followed the two boats, Turn the Tide actually looked to be a click quicker.
The moment had huge implications for the overall outcome of the race. Dongfeng and Turn the Tide were racing for 4thplace. If Turn the Tide came out on top in the Cardiff to Gothenburg penultimate stage, that would knock Dongfeng down the points and off their overall lead going into the race’s final leg. For sporting tension, this was up there with Federer match point down in a Grand Slam final, or Mo Farah turning into the final straight surrounded by Kenyan jerseys. And, uniquely for an offshore race, we could watch it unfolding before our eyes.
There was more; the now constantly live tracker matched with drone and onboard video captured Brunel demonstrating an outrageous turn of boat speed to blast over the top of MAPFRE into the lead – a decisive moment which ultimately lifted Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel to win Leg 10 – as well as the now customary live coverage of the finish itself, with just boat lengths separating Brunel and MAPFRE as they gybed for the finish.
In the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race we enjoyed helicopter footage of the fleet blasting past Gibraltar because it was a rare chance to watch this type of offshore yachts racing in full pelt conditions. Just a few weeks later this was emphatically surpassed by drone video shot from the boats deep in the Southern Ocean, giving views of ocean racing competition we’ve never been privy to before.
This edition of the Volvo has had its problems, and the event has its share of critics, but as the competition reaches its denouement yesterday’s live broadcasts definitively proved that offshore racing can be a gripping spectator sport. I’ve had to wait up for plenty of ocean race finishes (the first rule of offshores being they usually finish in the middle of the night!); this one I couldn’t tear myself away from. If you weren’t watching, go and take a peek at what you missed at www.volvooceanrace.com
The scene set for the Leg 11 grand finale now couldn’t be better scripted. When Team Brunel won into Gothenburg late last night, they took the maximum score plus the leg winner’s bonus point, which moved them up to 65 points. As MAPFRE finished in 2nd, they too moved up to 65 points.
Dongfeng held off Turn the Tide for 4th(after AkzoNobel took 3rd), which leaves them on a final total score of 64 points. But there is a bonus point for the team with the shortest elapsed time over the entire Volvo Ocean Race course, which will be awarded to Dongfeng Race Team. That leaves three teams tied on 65 points each, with one leg to go. Whoever wins the 700-miles final stage from Gothenburg into The Hague will win the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.
A victory by any of these three teams would deliver a fairytale finish. Xabi Fernandez’s MAPFRE has been the stand-out performer for much of the race, there is a real warmth among the team and they have the most passionate supporters. Dongfeng Race Team want this so badly, a win would be the culmination of so many years of hard graft for this incredibly tight knit squad.
And for Bouwe Bekking a Volvo Ocean Race victory would be the perfect swansong to an incredible career that has now seen him race around the world eight times, finishing in the runner-up spot twice, but he has never held the trophy. Could Brunel end on a home win in The Hague?
Skippers’ quotes: “We did a fantastic job as a team and of course the result was better than we could have dreamed,” said Team Brunel skipper Bekking. “We wanted to beat the two red boats but a win to get the bonus point is really nice…
“The pressure was on but we knew we just needed to sail the boat the best we could and not do any crazy things. Very happy how it all ended up.”
MAPFRE skipper Xabi Fernandez: “It was a very good leg for us and a good result as well, but a little bit painful the way it happened.
“We felt we did the hardest part of the leg, up the coast of Scotland, and managed to be in the lead there, but we just couldn’t hold Brunel on the tight reaching… They’ve been improving a lot on the last legs, but it was a surprise to see such a speed difference.”
Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier: “For the fans it’s going to be an exciting last leg. And for us as well. We will give all we have and try for our first leg victory. But really we just have to be ahead of the other two. We can do it!”
Yachting World will be in Gothenburg as the teams prepare for their final Volvo Ocean Race showdown next week.