Rivals Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE were locked in a bitter tussle for the Leg 11 lead – and overall Volvo Ocean Race victory – on Friday as they led the fleet towards the Danish city of Aarhus.
One third of the way through the 970-mile sprint final leg from Gothenburg to The Hague the seven teams were today split by less than 20 miles as they charged south through the Kattegat, the strait separating Sweden and Denmark.
After rounding the first course mark off Norway overnight, the leading pair profited from better breeze than their counterparts and extended the gap at the front.
With the second mark at Aarhus, on Denmark’s east coast, just 10 miles away, the two red boats were just one-mile apart as of 1200 UTC, keeping alive the battle that will grant overall race victory to whichever of Dongfeng, MAPFRE and Team Brunel finishes ahead of the others.
Their closest rivals on the race course, Vestas 11th Hour Racing, were a little under six miles back, in third place, while Brunel held down fourth but have work to do to narrow a gap of over 15 miles.
As well as being a monstrous battle between the crews, the race for the overall title is also a personal one.
Charles Caudrelier skippered Dongfeng to third spot in the 2014-15 edition, while Brunel, under race veteran Bouwe Bekking’s leadership, finished second.
MAPFRE skipper Xabi Fernández has raced four times but never lifted the trophy.
What’s more, if MAPFRE or Team Brunel win the race, either MAPFRE’s Blair Tuke or Brunel’s Peter Burling will become the first sailor ever to complete the ‘triple crown’: victory in the Olympics, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race.
But one-third of the way through the challenging final leg, the focus has narrowed to the next manoeuvre, the next transition.
“This downwind section has been pretty tricky – in general there’s been a big extension,” MAPFRE’s Tuke said.
“We’ve gained quite a lot on Brunel, AkzoNobel and Vestas. We’ve managed to stay close to Dongfeng but for a little while it was pretty scary – they managed to get five or six miles in front of us. As we’ve come into Denmark we’ve compressed again.
“We’re now on one of our fastest sail setups, so all’s good but hopefully we can catch up even more, and, at some stage before The Hague, pass them.”
On Brunel the crew were cursing their luck as they watched the gap to the frontrunners grow – but had faith in the forecast which predicts the wind to drop coming into Aarhus, providing an opportunity to catch up.
“It’s been a case of ‘the rich get richer’ since rounding the mark off Norway,” Burling said. “The fleet’s been expanding a little, but there should be a pretty good compression as we come into Aarhus. Hopefully we can catch up with them again.”
Skipper Bouwe Bekking added: “We didn’t sail too smart yesterday afternoon and that has become expensive. At the rounding mark off Norway still in good contention, but then it went backwards. We will keep fighting until the end.”
Onboard Dongfeng, the crew were taking nothing for granted.
“We’ve sailed really nicely against MAPFRE and they’re still behind us,” Dongfeng watch captain Daryl Wislang said. “Let’s hope it can stay like that. It’s going to be a battle that’s for sure.”
After rounding the Aarhus mark the fleet will then head north to a virtual mark close to the Norwegian coast, which they will leave to port, before beginning the run south into the Leg 11 finish line at the Dutch capital of The Hague.
The current ETA sees the leaders arriving on Sunday afternoon local time.
Behind the leading group, the battle for sixth place on the overall leaderboard continues between SHK/Scallywag and Turn the Tide on Plastic. Currently, the pair are sailing bow to bow with a slight edge to the Scallywags.
Follow every moment of the final leg of the Volvo Ocean Race – Go to www.volvooceanrace.com for live coverage on the Race Tracker as well as the latest content from the race boats.
There will also be live aerial footage of the fleet as they fight it out in the final battle of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 11 Leaderboard – 1200 UTC Thursday 22 June
1. Dongfeng Race Team – 628.8 nautical miles to finish
2. MAPFRE – 0.7 nautical miles to leader
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 5.6 nautical miles to leader
4. Team Brunel – 14.8 nautical miles to leader
5. team AkzoNobel – 16.3 distance to the leader
6. SHK / Scallywag – 19.1 nautical miles to leader
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 19.3 nautical miles to leader
Volvo Ocean Race Overall Points Leaderboard after Leg 10
1. MAPFRE – 65 points
2. Team Brunel – 65 points
3. Dongfeng Race Team – 64 points *
4. team AkzoNobel – 53 points
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 38 points
6. SHK / Scallywag – 30 points
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 29 points
* One additional point will be awarded to the team with the best elapsed time at the conclusion of the race in The Hague. Currently, Dongfeng would win this point.
** Should there be a tie on the overall race leaderboard at the end of the offshore legs, the In-Port Race Series standings will be used to break the tie.
The Legends Race
Also starting on Thursday 21 June was The Legends Race.
To celebrate the history of the race, 12 legendary boats from seven of the past editions have gathered for another chance at victory, putting their lineage on the line for a competition from Gothenburg, the Swedish stopover port of the Volvo Ocean Race, to the Dutch port of The Hague, the finish destination for the current round-the-world race.
Full coverage is here – https://www.facebook.com/legendsrace2018/