Tactical nightmare for Ian Walker in final Volvo legs

LISBON, Portugal, June 4 – An independent ISAF jury’s decision to impose a penalty point on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s closest rivals for the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 title could, paradoxically, leave Ian Walker’s crew with an unwanted headache for the final two legs.

The Emirati boat’s skipper had previously conceded that his tactics for the closing legs, having opened up a formidable six-point advantage, would be to ‘cover’ Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA). That strategy worked – just – in Leg 7 after the Chinese slipped back in the final 100 or so nautical miles (nm), allowing both MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) to relegate them to fourth, ahead of Walker’s fifth place.

Unfortunately for Caudrelier and his team, they had committed an ‘honest mistake’ earlier in the 2,800nm stage by sailing briefly the wrong way into a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) and were duly penalised a point for the error on Wednesday by the jury. MAPFRE and Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) were similarly dealt with in the hearing and to add salt to the Swedish all-women crew’s wounds, they lost an additional point for also drifting into an exclusion zone in the same leg.

In both Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE’s cases, the navigational blips cost them a place in the overall standings with just Legs 8 and 9 to Lorient (France) and Gothenburg (Sweden) to negotiate.

Caudrelier now finds himself behind Leg 7 winners Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) in third position, although both lie on 22 points. The Dutch boat has the edge, courtesy of a better in-port race series record before the race closes on June 27. Similarly, MAPFRE find themselves now trailing fourth-placed Team Alvimedica for the same reason, although both have 27 points.

Anyone thinking that Walker and co will consequently sleep that much better on the eve of Sunday’s (June 7) Leg 8 departure, may have pause for thought, however. The Briton will no longer have just one boat to ‘cover’. He needs to keep a very close eye on both Team Brunel and Dongfeng Race Team and with Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) now back in a restored seven-strong fleet, there are several permutations that could yet see Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing miss out on the grand prize.

Walker sees things pretty simply: “We've got to finish in the top three or top four – twice – or just beat them (Team Brunel and Dongfeng Race Team),” he said.

Certainly, Caudrelier was quick to see the silver lining in Wednesday’s jury decision.

“We have to look forward, what’s done is done,” he said. “We won Leg 6, and we led for a good part of this last one – that gives us a lot of confidence in our performance despite the final points of this last leg not being as we would prefer.

“Anything can still happen to Abu Dhabi on these next two legs, so we haven’t lost sight of the chance of beating them. Of course, now Team Brunel are also in the picture, which perhaps makes it just as complicated for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing as it does for us. Who will cover whom?”

Sunday’s absorbing finale, part one, will be prefaced on Saturday (1400 local time/1300 UTC) by the Lisbon in-port race, the eighth act of a 10-part series that could yet still split teams in Gothenburg as the final tie-breaker (see Scoreboard above).

The seven teams then set out for the ‘mere’ 647nm which divide Lisbon and Lorient in Brittany, France. The trip should take just three or, tops, four days to sail, but the Atlantic sprint promises to be totally absorbing.

Wednesday’s jury verdict has not changed that one iota, and as Team Brunel's highly experienced navigator, Andrew Cape (AUS), summed up: “One mistake, one broken jib sheet, and you could be last.”

Race Yachts
JPK August 2023