Volvo fleet in fight for final podium positions

Four boats, 960 nautical miles (nm), six days sailing, one objective – to join Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on the Volvo Ocean Racing 2014-15 podium.

That is the sum of it for a quartet of challengers after nearly 38,000nm of navigating some of the most treacherous seas on earth over more than eight months of gruelling competition for professional sport’s longest challenge.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) have already all but secured the overall trophy in Lorient, France, after claiming their seventh podium position (third) of the eight legs sailed so far.

Even if they finish last in the final leg to Gothenburg from Lorient, starting on Tuesday at 1700 CEST, via a pit stop in The Hague, they still cannot be caught by their closest pursuers, Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED), eight points behind them.

Only a catastrophic breach of rules leading to two or more penalty points coupled with a last-placed finish in Sweden can deprive Walker of the honour of lifting the trophy now – and that is very, very unlikely to happen.

There’s still much to sail for, though, with Ian Walker determined to finish in style.

Meantime, Bouwe Bekking and his second-placed crew are desperate to take that second step on the podium.

But no less than three teams are breathing down their necks and determined to pass them on the final leg.

Just six points separate the Dutch boat (27 points) from Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA – 29 points), MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP – 31 points) and Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA – 33).

And both Leg 8 winners, Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR), and runners-up, Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS), have ample reason to upset them all too.

They will each be desperate to prove that their fantastic performances from Lisbon to Lorient were no flashes in the pan.

It’s all boiling up to be one final, enthralling, leg – especially with what promises to be a massively attended 24-hour pit stop in The Hague, added to the mix on Friday/Saturday (June 19-20).

Bekking would like nothing better than to sail into his home country in the lead – “it’s going to be huge there, it will be crazy” – and then seal the deal in Gothenburg, two days later.

“It’s really all about Gothenburg,” he told Monday’s news conference.

“It will be nice to finish first in Scheveningen (The Hague), but the points are only awarded in Gothenburg. That will be the big thing and I’ll try to keep the guys focused on that as much as possible.”

Dongfeng Race Team’s Charles Caudrelier, meanwhile, is focused on denying his Dutch rival and rounding off a campaign that has already exceeded expectations with four rookie Chinese sailors in his ranks.

He confirmed that hitches with the onboard machine that converts sea to drinkable water, have been fixed after issues on two legs.

“We know the problem now, it shouldn’t be an issue again,” he said.

MAPFRE skipper Iker Martínez is simply happy to be back at the helm and moving on from the off-course wrangles over three penalty points that were given by the ISAF independent jury for infringements on Leg 5 and Leg 7.

“Once we’re in the water it’s much easier for us,” he said. “We know how to manage our boat and go sailing.”

As for Charlie Enright, who has skippered the youngest crew in the race, a podium place would round off perfectly a race in which his team has improved leg on leg as well as scooping two in-port wins including on Sunday in Lorient.

“It would be a great accomplishment, certainly,” he said. “We’ve thrown a lot into this and it would mean a lot to us. We’ve learned so much along the way. If only we knew when we started what we know now.”

The seven boats are expected to arrive in The Hague (Scheveningen) on Friday morning and leave after midday the following day following the brief stop.

They will then arrive in port for the final time on Monday (June 22), or more unlikely, the following day, in Gothenburg for a grandstand finish roared on by what is expected to be a packed Race Village.

– VOR Media

Jeanneau JY60