The six Volvo Ocean Race skippers facing their second and final Atlantic crossing spoke on Thursday of how dangerous and challenging Leg 7 to Lisbon is likely to be.
The sailors rarely voice their fears, but Monday (May 18) is the ninth anniversary of the tragic day when Dutch sailor Hans Horrevoets lost his life in the 2005-06 edition of the race. He was swept overboard on the same Atlantic leg.
The 2,800-nautical mile leg, from Newport, Rhode Island, is considerably shorter than the six legs that have preceded it, but all the skippers underlined the perils of the North Atlantic stage.
Bouwe Bekking of Team Brunel, summed up the threats to a packed press conference in Newport ahead of Sunday’s departure to the Portuguese capital.
“If you just look at history in this next leg, lots of rigs have been broken, a boat has sunk, a person has lost his life and we know we’re going to Europe so people will push so hard on this leg,” he said.
Bekking knows better than most. His movistar boat sank in the equivalent leg during the 2005-06 race and his crew were rescued by Horrevoets’ team-mates on board ABN AMRO TWO. He did, however, point out that the one-design Volvo Ocean 65 boats are better maintained than in the past, ‘so hopefully this time we won’t get any breakages’.
Bekking feels his third-placed boat has little chance of catching current overall leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), with a 10-point deficit.
Walker is not so swift to write them off – and certainly not second-ranked Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA), the Chinese team, who this week welcomed well-known French sailor Sidney Gavignet in to their crew for Leg 7.
Caudrelier and his team, not surprisingly, have by no means given up hope of preventing Walker from winning. He pointed out that a third of the points are still up for grabs with the shortest legs still to come including Leg 8 from Lisbon to Lorient, France, and then finally to Gothenburg, Sweden, via a pit-stop in The Hague next month.
Iker Martínez (ESP), the MAPFRE skipper, returns to the Spanish boat’s helm after missing Leg 6 and insisted he was happy with his team’s current position of fifth, level on 24 points with Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA).
He is relishing another battle with the North Atlantic despite bitter memories from 2012 when his Telefónica campaign began to disintegrate during this stage, allowing Groupama to win the overall title.
For Rhode Islander Enright, skipper of Team Alvimedica, Sunday will mark the end of an exhilarating but tiring stopover during which his hand has been pumped by dozens of well wishers as the local boy made good.
Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) are finally giving a breather to Briton Annie Lush as part of their rotation system. They have not been rewarded yet for the steep learning curve in offshore experience they have garnered during the race, and the shorter legs undoubtedly are their best chance to trouble their male rivals.
Meanwhile, Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) are sitting out a stage for the final time since they ran into an Indian Ocean reef midway through Leg 2 back at the end of November. Nicholson reported they are right on track for a return to the fleet for Leg 8 between Lisbon and Lorient at the beginning of June.
First, though, the fleet will contest the Team Vestas Wind In-Port Race Newport on Saturday (14:00 local time/19:00 UTC).
Team Brunel hold a one-point lead over Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with Team SCA four points further behind in third.