Abu Dhabi Ocean racing face two sprints before Lisbon finish

Anything could happen in the final push towards the Volco Ocean Race finish line

Justin Slattery and his crew have two sprints left before they reach the Volvo Ocean Race finish line. Photograph: Epa

Justin Slattery and his crew have two sprints left before they reach the Volvo Ocean Race finish line. Photograph: Epa

 

By the time you read this, leg seven of the Volvo Ocean Race will probably have ended and the six-boat fleet will be alongside in Lisbon.

This is the final ocean leg and just two sprints remain before the finish in Gothenburg at the end of next month.

Since last week when we had barely started from Newport, Rhode Island, we’ve been in a battle to dig our way out of trouble that could yet jeopardise our overall lead of the race, even at this late stage of the game.

Just a few days ago we were placed last. We’ve since managed to claw back one place from Sam Davies and the girls on Team SCA.

Now we have Charlie Enright and the lads on Alvidmedica in our sights, just a mile or so ahead and we’re confident of overtaking them into fourth place. After that, however, there’s more than 20 miles to the leading boats including our nearest rivals on Dongfeng skippered by Charles Caudrelier.

So how did we end up here when just a week ago we were all bunched together, neck and neck for the lead as we skirted the southern boundary of the Ice Exclusion Zone where the Titanic lies?

First up we found ourselves slightly off the pace when we had about five or six knots of breeze while the other barely a mile away had twice that so eased ahead of us. It took us the whole night to sail back down to their track and pick up the same wind conditions.

Gradually, we pulled back to within a couple of miles and we felt we were in a good challenging position.

But we were all skirting the Azores high pressure system and as we were furthest south at this stage, ended up being chased by a ridge of light winds that faded as the high filled directly overhead.

We were becalmed for three hours and the leaders made good their escape and opened up the miles on us. Team SCA sailed over us too and we found ourselves in last place. High atmospheric pressure and even higher on board for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s skipper Ian Walker and our navigator Simon “Sci-fi” Fisher as they juggle our situation and possible solutions.

That was at the weekend when we had less than 1,000 miles left in the leg. Now we’re closing fast on the finishing line off Lisbon and the Tagus estuary offers our main hope of recovery.

We’re expecting the winds to build from the front of the fleet as we close in on the Portuguese coast but then shut down to light or even calm conditions at the finish. The leaders should get this wind first and pull ahead further but then we may be able to carry right up to them.

Whether or not we get a re-shuffle of the fleet at the finish depends on just how light it does go but there’s no way we’re giving up; anything could to happen to anyone from gear failure to hitting a whale, even in the final few hours. It’s that possibility that keeps us fighting and pushing. If we do pick-up to fourth and place one spot behind Dongfeng it won’t be too bad though our goal is to reach the podium in every leg. We have a long night ahead of us.

nSlattery and some of the boats will be unaware until they finish that the Race Committee have brought a protest against three of the teams following a complaint by Walker that these teams sailed into Traffic Separation Schemes shortly after leaving Newport last week. An International Jury will convene in Lisbon to hear the protest and penalties may follow if upheld.

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