Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing lead into the home straight

Justin Slattery and crew head the Volvo Ocean Race going into the final ocean leg

Justin Slattery’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team lead the Volvo Ocean Race. Photograph: Epa

This is it, the final ocean leg of our 39,000 nautical-mile race around the world.

We have about a week of sailing to go before we reach Lisbon and the end of Leg 7 from Newport, Rhode Island.

After Portugal, just two sprint legs to Lorient in Brittany and then to Gothenburg via a 24-hour pitstop in The Hague remain. And in those two legs there will be the equivalent distance that we currently have on this transatlantic passage.

In theory, we should have been able to cross in seven or eight days but we’re currently into patches of light airs so we won’t be seeing any new speed sailing records this time.


In a sense, that suits us Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing; high speed means high risk in terms of boat damage and that's the last thing we need with almost one third of the race points still up for grabs.

We’re also looking forward to Lisbon to see what will become of three of the boats including our closest rivals Dongfeng who sailed into a Traffic Separation Scheme of Martha’s Vineyard shortly after departing Newport. Could there be a penalty coming?

Teams aren’t allowed protest other teams for such an incident so we’re waiting to see what the race office does. They say that they’re currently assessing the matter.

We’ve sailed into the warm waters of the Gulf Stream which can carry us Eastwards at up to four knots depending on the local effects and eddies which aren’t always predictable.

Before the start of this leg, we were looking at one weather model that showed Easterly winds of over 25 knots: that force coming against a current of such speed would create mountainous seas for us to climb as we would be sailing upwind and over the crests before crashing into the troughs below.

That would certainly mean boat-breakages even with conservative risk management.

Luckily, our best routing has us sailing south of this system that is closer to the ice-fields that we are excluded from; the wreck of the Titantic is just 60 miles to the north of our track.

The downside is that we’re all still bunched together and as we pick our way through patches of wind, the lead changes almost every sked. The elastic that has joined us throughout this new version of the race using one-design boats may be well-used but its still going strong.

To defend our overall race lead, our gameplan is basically to sit on Charles Caudrelier and Dongfeng in what could be a 2,000-mile match race to Lisbon.

Right now, we’re ahead of them by around a mile and will be covering their every move to hopefully keep ahead of them. But we also have to watch the rest of the fleet nearby in case they get a jump on both of us and we miss a faster ride into Lisbon so the positions are very fluid.

Our strategy in the race has been to finish on the podium in every leg and this still holds true.

Our six-point lead over Dongfeng means we could - in theory anyway - finish two places behind them for the next three legs and let the outcome of the In-Port race decide a tie-break.

We currently lead that series too.

However, in such a scenario we’d have to ensure we didn’t place outside the top four boats or one of the other runner-ups could become a threat.

So our goal is still to win this leg as before or at least stay in touch with Caudrelier and be on the podium.

And not break any gear.

Some minor things we could probably deal with but we’ll only have a week in Lisbon and there’ll be no chance to undertake major repairs such as a new mast or hull repairs from a collision.

This leg may be close to home but the Atlantic is known to be as rough as the Southern Ocean.

This is also the leg that nine years ago saw the fourth fatality in the history of the Whitbread/Volvo races on the approaches to the finish in Portsmouth.

I was sailing on ABN AMRO ONE, the eventual overall winner as part of a two-boat line-up with a youth team that also set a 24-hour speed sailing record early on in the race.

Watch-captain Hans Horrevoets was about to go below to get his lifeline as the wind had freshened when a wave washed him overboard. Despite a fast turnaround and recovery by his crew he was dead.

We were too far away to help. I recall being in my bunk when our skipper Mike 'Moose' Sanderson and navigator Stan Honey received the email with the news that shocked us all to the core.

The memory of Hans was uppermost in my mind as I prepared my safety gear for this leg and how unforgiving the sea can be. For as much as it gives us, it can take from us as well.