Photo: Buda Mendes / Volvo Ocean Race

Second victory for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Top four boat reach Itajaí within an hour at the end of the Volvo Ocean Race's fifth leg

Monday April 6th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: Brazil

The Volvo Ocean Race enjoyed another impressively close finish as leg five from Auckland, across the Southern Ocean, round Cape Horn and up to Itajaí, Brazil concluded with the top four boats all finishing within one hour after 6,776 miles and some 19 days at sea.

Ultimately it was Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team that edged ahead of Team Alvimedica last Thursday as the boats went through their 'last' transition zone, to the southeast of Buenos Aires and managed to cling on the lead following a final en masse tack for the finish line on Saturday. The UAE-based VO65 crossed the finish line at 16:30 local time on Sunday in a time of 18 days 23 hours 30 minutes and 10 seconds.

As a testament to how the VO65 one designs have turned this Volvo Ocean Race into such a competition, after five legs Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing becomes the first team to have scored two leg victories and has scored podium finishes on all the legs to date. In terms of the overall leaderboard, this leg could not have been better for Walker's team - Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing started leg five tied on point with Dongfeng Racing Team's, however following the top mast breakage and subsequent retirement of the Franco-Chinese team, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has now soared into the lead holding a seven point advantage.

During the leg Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing set a new 24 hour distance record for VO65s covering 550.82 nautical miles at an average speed of 22.95 knots on the approach to Cape Horn, in the process winning the IWC prize. 

“This is a hugely satisfying result,” an exhausted, but elated Walker told the near 10,000 spectators at the arrival in Itajaí. “You always have to be wary of the Southern Ocean and this time was no different. We saw some of the most ferocious conditions any of us has seen – but we stayed strong and made it through. Setting a new IWC speed challenge record was a massive bonus!”

To his rivals, Walker added: “Our hearts go out to the Dongfeng crew. It’s hard to know where the red line is for these boats until you cross it – and by then it’s too late. We wish them the very best of luck in getting back in the race as soon as possible.”

ADOR navigator Simon Fisher said the leg had been as much about sailing smartly as it had been about sailing fast – a skilful balancing act between the need to push hard enough to stay with the leaders while avoiding damage to key equipment: “It’s a fine line – knowing when it’s right to push to the limit and when it’s not,” said Fisher. “We saw the opportunity to go for the 24-hour distance record and knew we had to go for it. After Cape Horn - with Dongfeng out of the leg - it was all about making sure we finished the leg in one piece.”

The final 2,000 miles from Cape Horn past the Falkland Islands to Itajaí remained very challenging.

“The sea state after the Horn was as bad as I’ve experienced,” said Justin Slattery who was making his fifth rounding. “We regularly saw the wind spike over 50-knots, so we backed off a fair bit to save the boat from slamming in the waves and to protect the sails and mast from the shock loading. First and foremost we knew it was crucial we finished the leg.”

During this period they dropped the keel on two occasions in the heaviest of the weather losing some ground, but keeping his boat intact. “In hindsight, that looks a pretty shrewd decision,” Walker said.

As the fleet emerged from the Roaring Forties, the extreme conditions slowly moderated over the final five days of the leg as lighter winds ahead of the fleet compressed the four-boat pack and narrowed ADOR’s lead. At dawn on the final day just 10 miles separated the top four as Walker’s crew led into the final 100 miles.

“The racing has the same intensity as an inshore race with boat on boat tactics rather than large scale navigational decisions deciding the final outcome,” continued Fisher.

After a day of nervously covering the chasing trio as the winds progressively faded on the approach to the Brazilian coast, the ADOR crew finally hooked into solid southerly winds for the final 10 miles and crossed the line a little over six-miles ahead.

Walker credited his team’s versatility for much of their victory: “Seven out of eight of our guys drive, so nobody has to drive for too long. We rotate everybody and I can’t speak highly enough of everybody in our team.”

Second to finish, just over 32 minutes behind ADOR, was leg four winner, MAPFRE, with Iker Martinez back on board in the skipper's position, while Team Alvimedica was 20 minutes behind in third, finishing just one minute, 16 seconds ahead of Team Brunel.

Scoring their second podium finish on this leg, Charlie Enright's young crew enjoyed a major achievement on this leg, leading the fleet around Cape Horn.

“We sailed almost 7,000 miles on this leg so to have it come down to less than a quarter mile is just amazing. It speaks to how close this competition is,” said Enright . “The points are close and our aspirations are still high.”

Enright adds it’s the team that is making the difference: “The team is our strength. We don’t have a lot of egos – everyone is in it for the result. When it’s time to be tough and dig in, we seem to do that quite well. I think that showed as we rounded the Horn."

Of their Horn rounding team co-founder and watch captain Mark Towill added: “It was definitely a sentimental moment, one of those life moments - we were pushing really hard. The Southern Ocean leg is what defines this race and it’s something we have all been looking forward to for a long time. There were six of us on board who rounded the Horn for the first time – that is something we will all have in common and share for the rest of our lives – so that’s a special thing.”

Meanwhile, Team SCA is still limping towards the finish having had more than her fair share of problems, damaging three sails and then suffering a port rudder breakage on Sunday. She is expected to finish on Tuesday.

Dongfeng Race Team is now being motorsailed to Itajaí where her shore crew face a race against time to have the new mast refitted in time for the start of the next leg to Newport, Rhode Island. The Itajaí In-Port Race is scheduled for 18 April with the start of Leg 6 to Newport, USA the following day.

Leg 5 finishing times

1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - 18 days 23 hours 30 minutes 10 seconds
2. MAFPRE - 19d 00h 02min 56s
3. Team Alvimedica - 19d 00h 24min 32s
4. Team Brunel - 19d 00h 25min 48s

Photos below from Ainhoa Sanchez, Vincent Arens, Buda Mendes/Volvo Ocean Race and Ian Roman/ Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing


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