Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) completed a triumphant Leg 7 early on Wednesday to bolster their hopes of finishing with a podium place in the Volvo Ocean Race and also keep alive the possibility of overall victory.
The Dutch boat sailed a near faultless transatlantic stage, edging MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) into second, just under 22 minutes behind.
Behind them, Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) edged out long-time leg leaders, Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA), after an enthralling dogfight over the final miles.
The Chinese-backed boat was caught by Enright’s crew in the early hours of Wednesday, but battled their way back and looked sure to overtake them again before a botched tack ruined their chances.
They lost out by just 55 seconds after nearly nine days and 13 hours of sailing across 2,800 nautical miles (nm).
With overall leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) finishing fifth ahead of Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR), the overall race standings are left finely poised.
The Emirati crew now have a five-point lead over Dongfeng Race Team with two short legs to sail, while Team Brunel are a point further adrift of Charles Caudrelier’s crew.
Caudrelier made no attempt to hide his disappointment after leading the leg for so long and seeing a podium place disappear in the final miles.
“I’m feeling very bad, very upset and very sad,” he summed up. “We deserved better, but I guess that’s life.
“Most of all, I’m upset with myself because my crew did a great job and I made a huge mistake – and I don’t accept mistakes. We really missed a chance in this leg with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing finishing fifth.”
Few sailors in the fleet will savour a win over one of the race’s trademark legs more than Team Brunel’s 51-year-old skipper, Bouwe Bekking, in his record-equalling seventh appearance.
He has certainly experienced the ups and downs of racing across the Atlantic. Few will forget the agonising position he faced in 2006 before he was finally forced to abandon his sinkingmovistar boat during the same stage of that Volvo Ocean Race.
Bekking insisted last week that he had not lost ‘a single night’s sleep’ over the incident and the confident way that Team Brunel sailed the leg would bear that out.
Team Brunel were harried all the way over the past 24 hours by both MAPFRE and Dongfeng Race Team, especially over the final few miles when the breeze dropped to almost zero in the Tagus River as they approached the Lisbon finish.
“We sailed a tremendous leg but just at the end when there was no wind, it was getting a bit gnarly,” said Bekking. “But we pulled it off.”
The victory was achieved with two newcomers on board, Adam Minoprio (NZL) and Timo Hagoort (NED), the latter replacing the injured Gerd-Jan Poortman (NED).
“It was good to have those young guys on board, they did a fantastic job,” added Bekking.
Team SCA crossed the line, some four hours and 22 minutes behind Team Brunel (see panel above), after an action-packed transatlantic leg in which they sailed within the pack for much of the nine days and at one stage threatened a podium finish after taking a bold strategic choice around the Azores High.
The final two stages, to Lorient (France) and then Gothenburg (Sweden) via a pit-stop in The Hague (Netherlands), will once again be contested by seven boats.
Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) rejoin the fleet for the first time since November 29 when the boat was grounded on a reef in the Indian Ocean.
After a four-month rebuild in the Persico boatyard in Bergamo, Italy, the boat was transported by sea and road to Lisbon, arriving a few hours before the rest of the fleet in the small hours of Wednesday morning.
Over the next few days, the rig will be stepped ahead of the Danish-backed team’s competitive comeback on June 6 in the Lisbon In-Port Race. Leg 8 to Lorient, a relative sprint at 647nm, begins a day later.
The race concludes on June 27 with the In-Port Race in Gothenburg after nine months and 38,739nm of sailing, visiting 11 ports and every continent.
Current latest standings (low points wins, In-Port Race Series splits ties):
1) Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 16 pts
2) Dongfeng Race Team 21
3) Team Brunel 22
4) MAPFRE 26
5) Team Alvimedica 27
6) Team SCA 41
7) Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 52 (DNS).
@ Volvo Ocean Race