Pressure mounts as Ocean Race draws towards finish line

Shoot-out with two other teams beckons on home straight for top place on podium

Sun rises on Mapfre and two of her crew, Anthony Marchand and Antonio Cuervas-Mons, to mark the start of a new day on the Volvo Ocean Race. The race is expected to end in Abu Dhabi over the weekend. Photograph: Getty Images.

Three weeks at sea now and the bungee cord at the front of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet has sprung the other way to reverse our lead of the previous 10 days.

It was never really that clear cut, only a couple of miles at best – which in ocean racing terms is pretty level. But for all of us on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the pressure is about to rack up as we approach our home port just a few 100 miles away.

We’ve dropped back into third place by around 30 or 40 miles – still a tiny gap after 1000 of miles since we started in Cape Town last month.

Lead pack

All three of us in the lead pack are lining up for the Straits of Hormuz after straight-line sailing up the perimeter of the piracy exclusion zone off the horn of




Thankfully, the sweltering conditions around the equator have cooled and life on board has become more bearable. We've had a fairly stable breeze all week and keeping up good speeds as we close on Musandam in Oman overlooking the straits.

There are fairly high hills there so local conditions are likely to be tricky. Once inside the Persian Gulf itself, even though it’s only 100 miles wide at it’s narrowest, we have to avoid crossing into Iranian waters so there’s some careful navigation ahead.

The Persian Gulf becomes the home-straight to the finishing-line at Abu Dhabi and where we hope to pick-out some tactical options to improve our podium place.

The doldrums

We lost our lead after transitioning the northern zone of the doldrums last weekend when the wind proved slightly less in the west while Bouwe Bekking’s Brunel and Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng slipped ahead in better pressure.

With the wind coming from an easterly direction, it’s been pretty routine with no options for gaining a tactical advantage.

Behind us, by about 300 miles the other three remaining boats in the race have much more ground to cover to become a threat.

Right now, we’re looking at a finish sometime this weekend but while a podium place appears likely, we’re hoping for a shoot-out with the other two ahead in sight of the finish.

If that happens, it’ll probably come from a light airs shut down that’ll affect the leaders first and – hopefully – allow us to make up the ground coming from behind to close the gap.

We’ve led this leg for the majority of it so it would be nice to create an opportunity to take back that lead, not least because we’re heading for our home port. Our sponsors and followers, as well as ourselves, would see that as fitting though it’s still far from certain.

The weather models suggest that this is possible though it’s effectively going to be a restart and fight for first place.

But as I’ve mentioned previously, this new fleet of one-design 65-footers has transformed the competition in this race: we’re closer together and there are no boat-speed differences so it’s already clear that we won’t be easily repeating our leg one victory.

All or most of the teams are going to win somewhere along the line.

Unfortunately, Team Vestas Wind aren’t going to be with us at sea after their shock grounding on the St Brandon archipelago almost two weeks ago.

Chain of events

We haven’t seen the footage yet so that’s something we’ll be reviewing as a team in Abu Dhabi.

Of the details we do know, it seems that Nico (Chris Nicholson – skipper) and Wouter Verbaak (navigator) have indicated that it seems to have been caused by a chain of events leading up to the grounding.

We’ve spoken about it and it’s a constant source for conversation. Devastating for them even though they’ve dealt with the aftermath very well. And nobody was hurt or injured.

The guys will certainly pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get on with things though we won’t know for a long while yet whether they can come up with a replacement boat.

For now, their race is over.