A brief split opened up in the Volvo Ocean Race fleet on Saturday afternoon local time as team AkzoNobel and Team Brunel were pushed by an unexpected wind shift to pass north and west of a commercial Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) while the race leaders, Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE slid down the east side.
The early advantage went to the race leaders, who increased their lead from eight to 12 miles.
“The breeze just shifted so much that we were on the wrong side of the TSS so we opted to reach down alongside of it. But that’s expensive as it means we’re sailing 90-degrees to the finish,” explained Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking.
“It’s just one of those things that happens during the race. We’ll lose Akzo as well (Ed: they did) as they tacked well before us and are just going to sail around us… Can’t change it.”
But the split hasn’t fully played out yet. The two Dutch boats may be the first to pick up the stronger winds forecast for later this afternoon. But in a covering move, the race leaders quickly pointed their bows west in a protective manoeuvre to minimise their exposure.
“We are waiting to catch the new wind,” said Dongfeng Race Team navigator Pascal Bidegorry. “The wind will come from the northwest, very strong. So it will be a left shift. We are on port tack now, waiting for more left shift to be able to tack and take the strong northwest wind directly south to the finish.”
Following a Friday night that saw the fleet compress through several light wind transitions, Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Race Team emerged to round the Norway turning mark in first place at 0700 UTC on Saturday morning.
Xabi Fernandez’s MAPFRE crew was less than a mile behind, while Charlie Enright’s Vestas 11th Hour Racing was just three miles back.
“We are pretty tight with Dongfeng and we have to keep pushing,” said Antonio Cuervos-Mons.
“We still want to win this leg,” said Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Jena Mai-Hansen, who sailed past her home port when the team took the turn at the Aarhus race mark on Friday afternoon. “The guys here are not too far in front of us and everything is full on for the three boats trying to win the race…”
Saturday is the penultimate day for the final leg of this Volvo Ocean Race. Three teams still have a chance to win the overall race and the finishing order between MAPFRE, Dongfeng Race Team and Team Brunel will determine the podium order for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18.
With just 400 miles left to the finish line in The Hague, the stakes couldn’t be higher. The teams will need to navigate between more TSS exclusion zones before reaching The Hague and choices must be made shortly that will play out over the coming hours. Tension is running high on board. As is the exhaustion level.
“I think we are going to sleep well when we arrive in The Hague,” Bidegorry said wryly. “We have only a bit more than one day to go and then the Volvo Ocean Race is finished. We have to keep on pushing to the maximum.”
The race looks set to become even closer before that. Everyone is pushing to the maximum and with only eight miles separating the first five boats, mistakes will be punished.
There is a battle at the back of the fleet as well where Turn the Tide on Plastic has turned the tables on SHK/Scallywag in the battle for sixth place. David Witt’s Scallywag has a tenuous one-point advantage on the leaderboard, but Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic could draw level by beating them this leg. Then, the In-Port Race on June 30 could determine the tie-break.
The current ETA predicts the leaders will arrive on Sunday afternoon between 1300 and 1600 UTC — mid-afternoon local time in The Hague.
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.