This morning’s finish of Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race was both excruciating to watch, and extremely exciting. Yes I know; the top speed was barely one knot and the fog so thick it was all but impossible to see the yachts, but it was still very exciting. For the crew on Team Brunel it must have felt like watching a train wreck in slow motion. After having led the race for most of the leg, and led coming into Newport Harbor, Team Brunel lost the race to the Spanish boat Mapfre less than a stone’s throw from the finish line.
Both boats were sailing in zero breeze, but someone on the Jamestown side of the harbor must have shaken out their laundry, the puff floated across Narragansett Bay and hit the listless Code 0 on Mafre. It was enough to float the Code 0 and coax them ahead of Team Brunel and across the line in first place. This time yesterday Mapfre was in fifth place. What a comeback.
This leg from Itajaí, Brazil was fast and hard fought. Straight out of the gate the boats were pounding upwind trying to make some progress toward the bulge of brazil where the sailors knew that they would be able to ease sheets for a fast, fun trip up to the equator. It was almost as if the doldrums didn’t exist as they blew through the windless zone barely slowing. Soon thereafter they picked up the Trades and it seems as if it was just yesterday that the fleet was abeam of the competitors racing Antigua Race Week.
They kept up the fast pace until the wind died within spitting distance of the finish. The tension aboard all the boats must have been palpable as the leaders watched those behind bring up the breeze, while those behind watched the leaders park up knowing that they had a chance to make some big gains. For a short time last night the Chinese team Dongfeng took the lead, but Brunel wrestled it back only to have it stolen from them at the very last minute.
I understand and appreciate that there is an interest in having the races finish right downtown the host port. It allows local spectators to see the boats as they get close to land and to witness them finishing, but it does throw a curveball to the competitors. It seems a waste to have the boats race a tough 5,700 mile leg dealing with a myriad conditions only to have things change at the very last minute once the wind dies close inshore.
Maybe in the event that there will be no wind in the harbor the race officials can have the actual race finish somewhere offshore and have the boats keep on racing to a ceremonial finish line in view of the onshore spectators. If there is a lead change there will be bragging rights instead of additional points. If there is breeze in the harbor then by all means race to the Race Village.
With Mapfre’s come-from-behind win they now sit well atop the leaderboard overall with 53 points. Dongfeng Race Team is in second with 50 points and Team Brunel, despite a lackluster first half of the race, is securely in third with 42 points. – Brian Hancock.