all to play for

There have been some very dramatic finishes in the Volvo Ocean Race. One that comes to mind was the battle on Waitematā Harbour between Kiwi’s Grant Dalton on New Zealand Endeavour and Chris Dickson on Tokio as both teams vied to be the first into their homeport. It was in the dead of night with most of Auckland’s population out on the water to witness the dramatic finish. To be honest I don’t remember who crossed the line first but there was just seconds between them and the excitement was electric.
There have been other close finishes but this current Volvo Ocean Race, now on the last leg of the race into The Hague, is by far the most dramatic. It’s bound to be a close finish, that’s been the nature of the race thus far, but there are three teams atop the leaderboard who are in a tie for first place and the overall winner of the race is going to be decided on this leg. The three boats vying for the win are the Spanish yacht Mapfre, the Chinese team Dongfeng and the Dutch aboard Team Brunel. All are tied with 65 points, well technically Dongfeng has only 64 but they will pick up an extra point by having the lowest elapsed time for the race.
Here’s what’s at stake. There has never been a Spanish or Chinese winner of the Volvo Ocean Race so if either of those boats win there will be history made. There have been a number of Dutch winners going all the way back to the legendary Connie van Rietschoten aboard Flyer in 1977/78 but the sentimental favorite to win has to be Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking who is competing in his eighth, and probably last race. Who doesn’t support a man who has been on such a mission to win, especially as he will be sailing into his home country?
The course for this final leg is a crazy one. The boats started off Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast but instead of sailing direct to The Hague they were sent to a turning mark off Norway.  From there they have had to retrace their wake to a “fly by” in Denmark. As this is being written the boats are currently sailing into the harbor of Aarhus where they will round a turning mark in front of thousands of spectators and then head back north again to sail around the top of Denmark before finally being able to point their bows south toward the finish in the The Netherlands.
So far the racing has been dramatic with the two red boats, Mapfre and Dongfeng Race Team in a boat-for-boat match race at the front of the fleet. As the boats sail into the harbor of Aarhus the Chinese aboard Dongfeng have a slight lead but they are sailing in shifty wind conditions and anything can happen. Let’s not forget that Mapfre skipper Xabi Fernandez is an Olympic Gold and Silver medallist in the 49’er class. No slouch when it comes to picking wind shifts especially in shifty conditions.
It seems that Bekking and company are not enjoying much luck and are languishing in fourth place 12-odd miles behind the leaders, but let’s not forget that they were toward the back of the fleet for the first half of the last leg before they made a spectacular come-from-behind surge to win the leg. The course ahead has many passing lanes and the forecast for the west coast of Denmark is for strong northwesterly winds, just the kind of conditions  that Team Brunel excel in.
I may have been a critic of the Volvo Ocean Race in the past and I have received some grief for it, but this is very dramatic and exciting and could not have been scripted by even the best writers. This is match racing on a global scale played out by some of the very best sailors on the planet speaking of which there is a secondary game being played out by Kiwi sailors Pete Burling and his former teammate Blair Tuke. Burling and Tuke won a gold medal in the Rio Olympics and both won the America’s Cup last year.
They are going for sailings Triple Crown, a win in all three that includes the Volvo Ocean Race. Tuke is aboard Mapfre who rounded the turning mark in Aarhus in second place just a few hundred meters behind Dongfeng, and Burling is aboard Team Brunel. If Dongfeng Race Team hold onto their lead and win in The Hague they will deny both sailors the Triple Crown but there is a lot of runway still ahead and much to play for. Sailing at its best and kudos to the Volvo Ocean Race for providing the sailing community with such drama. – Brian Hancock.