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Volvo Leg 9 Form Guide
As I write this we are less than 36 hours from the action starting in Newport with the in-port race schedules for Saturday 19th.
Looking first at the inport race, upsets apart, the form boats are the clearly the Red Boats which have, between them, won all the in port races except for one. Mapfre carry a 5 point lead with 4 races to go towards winning the minor prize of In-Port Race Champions. Of course that may yet lead to the major prize as the position in the In-Port Series is the tie break for the Volvo Ocean Race proper. So there is a real possibility that Dongfeng’s capturing of the pin mark at the start of their home inport race in Guangzhou could be more expensive than just embarrassment in frot of their home crowd.
The third winner of a round the cans race is of course Brunel who, as the last two ocean legs have proved are very much up to speed and may yet have an influence in the overall in-port positions.
The Big One
Then just 24 hours later they are off across the Atlantic to Cardiff. The Trans-Atlantic races have an almost iconic stature in oceanic yacht racing. Perhaps this is because due to the being the ocean where sail racing grew up it is where such racing bean.
Back in 1905, in the Kaiser Cup Scottish born (later naturalised American) Charlie Barr set a record on the schooner Atlantic that stood for 75 years and there has been a multitude of (primarily short or single handed) races developed over the years.
The original of these was started by Blondie Haslar who raced, along with 3 others including Sir Frances Chichester for the modest sum of half a crown (12.5 British pence in today’s money) hence the “Half a Crown Club”. Widely known as the OSTAR, it returned to its original name in 2009.
That was followed by the likes of the Route Du Rhum, Quebec – St Malo and  Transat Jacques Vabre and for the less ‘racey’ the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. A ‘Trans-Atlantic is an ambition for many sailors at multiple levels.
So what of the chances of the teams in the ‘Volvo’?
In reverse order Turn the Tide on Plastic and Scallywag have shown what may be considered flashes of speed with Scallywags win into Hong Kong being a sweet moment for them and TTOP’s performance early on in the leg 8. However TTOP need to string it together for a whole leg and Scally may find corners to cut lacking in the dash across the Atlantic.
Akzonobel has found flashes of speed, most notably their win into Auckland but otherwise have failed to shine.
Vestas started the race well with a win on the sprint to Lisbon followed by a couple of podium finished and were heading for a second place into Hong Kong when on coming up to avoid a lit fishing boat well ahead of them were in collision with another which required their retirement from the leg and missing the next two while their VO65 was repaired. Their misfortune continued with a rig failure on leg 7 but their return to the podium after the lottery of the Newport approach on Leg 8 must have raised their spirits.
That leaves 3 teams. Of these Brunel has had a significant turnaround in their fortunes in the last couple of legs. After holding off Dongfeng into Itajai on Leg 7, it looked like they were going to do the same to Mapfre on Leg 8. They really seem to have found their fast mode at last and although they lie 11 points behind the overall leader they should not be written off altogether. It is Bowwe’s eighth race and Capey’s 5th I think so no lacking in experience and the Atlantic is hardly an unfamiliar piece of water to them.
That brings us to the two red boats.
Lying in a frustrating 2nd place after the guesswork of the Newport approach is Dongfeng but just ahead is a piece of water that the Dongfeng afterguard might just consider their playground.
Charles Caudrelier has tasted success on these waters before, albeit in the opposite direction with two victories in the Jacques Vabre while Pascal Bidegorry really ‘sent it’ 10 years ago to break the West-East Trans-Atlantic record on Banque Populaire 5 a record that stand to this day and included an incredible 24 hour run of 907 Nautical Miles.
Can the Chinese team help Charles to a 3td trans-Atlantic victory? Only time will tell.
Having reclaimed the top spot on the leaderboard, Mapfre have proven to be a class act this time round. Much rests on their shoulders as despite many well funded teams in the race Spain has never lifted the VOR Trophy. Xabi’s generally quiet leadership style, Juan’s nav skills and Rob Greenhalgh running the middle of the boat have been tough to beat.
So next leg, double points! A win for Dongfeng and it is all square again, one for Mapfre widens the gap to 6 points which with just 2 legs left would start to look unassailable and would require other boats to get in mix.
And of course if they get to The Hague on equal points Mapfre’s in port results would be very important – or would they? What many people forget is that there is also 1 point on offer for the shortest cumulative time around the world.
Mapfre are 4 days behind the leader with Brunel in 2nd place. Around 17 hours in the lead are Dongfeng Race Team and if this was a Whitbread they would be feeling somewhat less under pressure than they are at the moment.
I have made my support of the Chinese team, my adopted home team if you like, no secret but I think the next 10 days could see a new “Battle of the Atlantic” AND with a live tracker too.
When am I going to get any sleep? – and I’m not just talking between Newport & Cardiff!