Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR), the UAE team competing in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), has finished Leg 7 from Newport, Rhode Island to Lisbon, Portugal in fifth place after a tense, light-wind finish on Wednesday.
The result means the Abu Dhabi outfit retain their overall lead in the round-the-world race by a margin of five points over closest rival Dongfeng Race Team, who finished one place ahead of the Abu Dhabi team in fourth.
Although disappointed not to have finished on the podium for the first time in the race, ADOR’s skipper and double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker said the crew would quickly put the result behind them and focus on the final two legs.
“It was a tough leg for us and it didn’t go according to plan — especially at the very end,” Walker said. “I’m pleased with the way the crew hung in there and we never gave up trying.”
At just 2,800 nautical miles, Leg 7 was the shortest in the race so far and yet proved to be the trickiest. Abu Dhabi’s crew, aboard their yacht Azzam, left Newport in sixth place but were soon up with the leaders after capitalising on a favourable windshift on the first night.
Despite taking the lead on several occasions, ADOR lost significant mileage and dropped to fifth place after snagging a wooden cargo pallet on its keel overnight on Day 4.
The crew first tried to shake the obstruction free by forcing Azzam into reverse but when that didn’t work, they had to send the nominated ‘swimmer of the watch’, Australian Phil Harmer. into the water in a wetsuit, mask and flippers to prise the wood free by hand.
ADOR then fought its way back into the lead, only to run into more trouble two days later when a shift in wind direction saw it haemorrhaging miles to the rest of the fleet further north.
However, a daring move to the north on Day VI — while out of range of the leaders’ tracking systems — put Azzam back within striking distance of the leading pack as the fleet began to encounter the light winds of the massive ‘Azores High’ weather system blocking the direct route to Lisbon.
ADOR made significant gains in the fast reaching conditions that prevailed for the final 500 miles, pressing Azzam to the limit to overhaul fourth-placed Team Alvimedica in the final 24-hours.
Light winds at sunrise on Wednesday morning slowed the leading pack as they entered the Tagus River, allowing ADOR and Alvimedica to close the gap to just a few miles. Alvimedica found fresh breeze close to the shore to first ghost past ADOR and then Dongfeng to snatch an unexpected third place. The Leg was won by Team Brunel, with Spanish team MAPFRE coming in second.
UAE Olympic sailor Adil Khalid said the final morning of the leg had been mentally tough for the crew, who were relieved to finish directly behind their closest overall challengers.
“We are not used to having our fate rest in someone else’s hands,” Khalid said. “In the end, Alvimedica did us a favour by passing Dongfeng. We’ll put this leg behind us, stay completely focused and start looking ahead to the last two sprint legs of the race.”
With the final ocean passage of the race behind them, Abu Dhabi’s sailors now have just a few days’ downtime to recuperate while the team’s shore crew cranes Azzam ashore to check her over ahead of the Lisbon In-Port Race on Saturday, June 6 and the start of Leg 8 to Lorient, France the next day.