Abu Dhabi shrugged off seven months of frustration to seal their first offshore victory in a nerve-jarring transatlantic leg from Miami to Lisbon, while Groupama’s second place finish — five and a half minutes behind after more than 3,500 nautical miles racing — was enough to take them top of the leaderboard in place of long-term leaders Telefonica.
Groupama spent days snapping at the heels of the Emirati team and were within a mile of their rivals as they headed up the River Tagus towards the finish line.
Ian Walker’s team defended resolutely, however, matching their rivals gybe for gybe to ensure their first podium finish on an offshore leg would also be their first win, and spark wild celebrations lit up by a booming firework display.
For Groupama, the consolation prize came soon enough, as Telefónica’s finish in fourth place — behind PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG in the third podium slot and just ahead of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand — meant the French team climb above them.
Abu Dhabi, who finished at 21:23:54 UTC, received 30 points for victory, with Groupama netting 25 after their finish at 21:29:21. PUMA took 20 points, Telefonica 15 and CAMPER 10.
Team Sanya finished sixth to pick up five points.
Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, now lead Telefónica by three points overall, with the Spanish team dropping off the lead for the first time since their victory on Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town back in November.
Four teams remain separated by just 21 points, making it the closest contest in the 39-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race with just two offshore legs and three in-port races still to come.
The arrival in Lisbon represented a homecoming for Abu Dhabi, who had a training base in nearby Cascais during the build-up to the race.
“It’s incredible — what a welcome,” said Walker, before he and Emirati crew member Adil Khalid were chucked into the water by their team mates.
“Do you think you can make the last 10 miles of a race any harder than that?
“It’s one of the most amazing experiences of my sailing career, that’s for sure. Mentally, certainly I’m exhausted. It’s just such a relief.”
Abu Dhabi also visited Lisbon in much less happy circumstances during Leg 1, after a dismasting within the first few hours ultimately forced them to ship the boat from Lisbon to Cape Town.
While they have notched up three victories in in-port races, and have a strong chance of winning the series, this is the first time they have really been able to shine in an offshore leg.
First Groupama and then Telefónica enjoyed the lead for long spells on a leg that started out looking like a fast, direct sprint across the Atlantic before the effects of Tropical Storm Alberto altered things drastically.
One by one, the boats were forced to head ever further north towards the ice exclusion zone.
Abu Dhabi moved into the lead on Day 6 and after briefly surrendering it to CAMPER they were back ahead the following day.
Two days later they were clear, though skipper Ian Walker warned repeatedly that a light-air zone inside the final 300 nautical miles would see the fleet compress.
That’s exactly how it turned out, with Abu Dhabi forced to scrap every step of the way to an emotional victory at the team’s second home.
“It came down to the wire, and we certainly had our ups and downs, but we are very happy,” said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. “it was a good operation for us!”
Third place for PUMA kept them in contention for the overall lead, 12 points behind new leaders Groupama.
“This is a great result,” said the team’s American skipper Ken Read. “There’s still a lot of points on the board and to be on the podium is a big deal for us.”
The battle between Telefónica and CAMPER for fourth and fifth came down to a slow-motion tussle over an excruciating final few miles, with no breeze and the current against them.
Telefónica eventually finished with an advantage of 102 seconds and less than a boat length for a five-point boost that could yet prove crucial.
The action resumes with the In-Port Race on June 9, followed by the start of Leg 8 to Lorient the following day.
Leg 7 results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 11d, 04h, 23m, 54s
2. Groupama sailing team – 11d, 04h, 29m, 21s
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG – 11d, 06h, 26m, 52s
4. Team Telefónica – 11d, 08h, 28m, 27s
5. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand – 11d, 08h, 30m, 09s
6. Team Sanya – 11d, 08h, 44m, 25s
Overall Leg 7 Total
1 Groupama sailing team 25 183
2 Team Telefónica 15 180
3 PUMA Ocean Racing by BERG 20 171
4 CAMPER with Emirates Team NZ 10 162
5 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 30 104
6 Team Sanya 5 32
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing launched an 11th hour comeback in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race to take their tally of in-shore successes to three, while Groupama scored a strong second to pile the pressure on overall race leaders Telefónica.
Ian Walker’s crew were rewarded for sailing a near-perfect race on Saturday when they snatched the lead from Groupama on the penultimate leg and went on to seal a dramatic victory.
Although they were pipped at the post, Groupama’s result moves them to within just seven points of Telefónica, who had yet more in-port disappointment when a penalty for touching one of the turning marks relegated them to last place.
In a thrilling finale, PUMA came from behind to rocket past CAMPER into third just metres from the finish line.
It was a fourth successive podium finish in the in-shore series for Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crew, and it brought them to within a point of third-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand on the overall scoreboard.
Team Sanya, the only team not racing in a new generation boat, were unlucky not to finish higher up the leaderboard, having to settle for fifth after a brave battle with their rivals.
“It feels great,” said a jubilant Abu Dhabi skipper Walker moments after crossing the finish line.
“We’ve had a tough time of it. We had no time at all to prepare for the last in-port race and we made a special point of having two full days’ training here. We wanted to show the world that Abu Dhabi hasn’t given up. We’re a good team, we’re determined, and it feels great to win a race.”
With the Volvo Ocean Race entering a critical stage with just three offshore legs and three in-port races left, just 14 points split the top four boats.
Telefónica still lead with 165 points but snapping at their heels are Groupama on 158, while CAMPER and PUMA are dangerously close on 152 and 151 respectively, bolstered by the results of the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race.
In a nail-biting contest peppered with position changes, Abu Dhabi capitalised on a strong start along with Sanya but it was Telefónica who led round the first mark, showing off their blistering speed on Leg 1.
The action couldn’t have been any more intense with Abu Dhabi and Groupama overhauling Telefónica on Leg 2. Meanwhile, after paying the price for heading offshore, CAMPER and PUMA were left desperately chasing the frontrunners.
While the front two stretched their lead, a fierce battle for third developed, climaxing on Leg 6 with Telefónica hitting the mark and the rest of the fleet piling in behind.
Telefónica were penalised by the on-the-water umpires, adding to their in-port misery and ending their hopes of consolidating their overall lead.
Sniffing a chance to pick up crucial points, PUMA, CAMPER and Sanya put pedal to metal and launched an extraordinary comeback that brought them back in touch with then leaders Groupama and second-placed Abu Dhabi with just a few legs left.
Abu Dhabi’s defining moment came when they hoisted a bigger sail than their French rivals, making the most of the smallest of speed advantages to pass Groupama despite having to dodge a spectator boat.
With the breeze fading, race officials chose to shorten the course and Abu Dhabi hung on to claim the win, all the more sweet due to the fact that just a few weeks ago their stricken boat Azzam was on a container ship en route to Brazil.
The sailors and shore crews are now turning their sights on the final preparations for 3,580 nautical mile Leg 7 from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal, starting on Sunday at 1700 UTC (1300 local time).
PORTMIAMI In-Port Race results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 74:09
2. Groupama sailing team, +00:33
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, +02:02
4. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, +02:11
5. Team Sanya, +2:35
6. Team Telefónica, +6:28
Team Sanya led the fleet out of Auckland and into a likely battering from the weather en route to the Southern Ocean, as Leg 5 to Itajaí got underway with the second half of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 completely open.
Auckland skipper Mike Sanderson enjoyed a dream start to the leg as his underdog Sanya outfit led the fleet around the inshore course on his home waters.
Sanya smoked their five rivals off the start line, enjoying better breeze in a commanding position to round the first mark ahead of Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG followed them around the televised section, followed by Team Telefónica, CAMPER with Emirates Team Zealand and Groupama sailing team.
With 6,700 nautical miles of ocean racing ahead of them, no team will be placing any significance on the leaving positions, especially with such a trial by the elements in prospect.
According to race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante a low pressure system to the north east of Auckland is set to intensify as it moves towards the colder waters of the Southern Ocean.
“It’s a heat machine right now,” Infante said. “As it interacts with the cooler air off New Zealand it could generate some big winds — 30 knots up to maybe even 50 or 60 knots.”
PUMA skipper Ken Read said keeping the boat and the crew in one piece was the top priority, with gales likely in the first few days.
Read added: “It’s going to be boat-breaking and person-breaking weather, and I think the smart will prevail.”
As the leg goes on, the fleet will sail through the notorious Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties where the winds consistently blow above 40 knots and conditions are more than capable of breaking boats.
Three new sailors have been added to the crew lists in Auckland. Anthony Nossiter from Australia is joining Abu Dhabi to replace the outgoing Justin Ferris, while just for this leg Finnish Olympic gold medal winner Thomas Johanson takes over from injured Kelvin Harrap on PUMA and Danish Olympic gold medallist Martin Kirketerp steps in on Sanya for Ryan Houston who has a kidney infection.
With the weather forecast to batter the fleet in the opening day of the leg, it will be a baptism of fire for the new crewmembers.
“Right now all our focus is on the weather forecast, which looks absolutely diabolical for the first 36 hours,” said Ian Walker, skipper of fifth-placed Abu Dhabi. “We just have to prepare our boat and our people as best we can.”
Despite having three leg wins and two in-port victories under their belt, Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica sit just 15 points clear at the top of the overall leaderboard, with less than 40 points separating the top four boats and fifth-placed Abu Dhabi still determined to fight their way back into the reckoning.
And as the 39,000 nautical mile race hits its mid-point with Leg 5 to Itajaí in Brazil, with more than half the points still to be awarded, it is anyone’s to win.
“The door has always been open for any team to win,” Martínez said. “The teams are very close and there will be some more boats winning legs for sure.”
CAMPER, currently ranked third overall behind Telefónica and Groupama, started the leg riding the high of victory on home waters in Saturday’s In-Port Race.
And with just 18 points separating them from the leaders, skipper Chris Nicholson said his team were still very much in the race.
“It’s still well and truly game on,” he said. “I see the future for the overall podium results for this leg as wide open — as wide open now as they were in Alicante.”
“I’ve been watching this race since 1981 and never before got this far and not really known what’s going to happen going forward,” added Sanderson whose sixth-placed Sanya are showing their best form of the race.
After second place finishes in Leg 4 and the Auckland In-Port Race, PUMA are also on a roll – but skipper Ken Read, who skippered PUMA to third place in the Southern Ocean leg of the 2008-09 event, said keeping the boat and the crew in one piece was the top priority.
“Quite frankly this is not a leg to be talking about wins and losses right now,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to talk tough but the reality is this is not the most hospitable part of the world and we have to make sure we’re smart.”
Leg 5 is expected to take around 18 days to complete.
Local heroes CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand stormed to victory in front of tens of thousands of ecstatic home fans in the Auckland In-Port Race on Saturday, giving them a first Volvo Ocean Race victory and ‘flicking a switch’ on their campaign.
Chris Nicholson’s men produced a dominant performance on the waters of Waitemata Harbour, taking the lead on the sprint to the first mark thanks to their decision to tack way out to shore and out of the strongest current, and then refusing to let go.
Fifty-four seconds after they heard the gun – and huge cheers from the crowd — PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crossed the line in second place ahead of Groupama sailing team following a terrific battle for the podium positions.
Behind them, Auckland-born skipper Mike Sanderson was also celebrating as Team Sanya finished the race in fourth, having out-manoeuvred Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth and overall race leaders Team Telefónica in sixth.
Tens of thousands of people lined Auckland’s shoreline and packed hundreds of spectator boats to watch Auckland’s first Volvo Ocean Race action in 10 years – and a win for CAMPER, the Spanish-sponsored team who count Auckland as one of their two home ports, made the day all the more special.
“The one thing we said all week is how do we thank everyone who has supported us and I hope this goes a long way to doing it,” said CAMPER’s Australian skipper Chris Nicholson as his team moved back to within 18 points of the leaders. “It’s been a huge week of support and it’s helped.
“Now we’ve flicked the switch and we want this on the next leg.”
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG got off to a flying start leading the boats over the line in 15-20 knots of easterly breeze but by the first turning mark CAMPER had snuck in front.
Groupama moved up into second but PUMA clawed their way back on the second upwind leg, overtaking Franck Cammas’ men to claim second and bank a vital five points.
“It was a lot of fun,” said PUMA skipper Ken Read. “We had a good start but CAMPER got the first shift and that’s all they needed.”
With Telefónica picking up just one point for sixth place, their stronghold on the overall leaderboard weakened.
“We had a pretty bad race,” said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez. “We didn’t sail well, so it was a headache for us. It was pretty difficult. We didn’t have much room to play with out there.”
Groupama moved to within 15 points of the overall leaders as they took home four points from the in-port race.
“Third is not so bad,” said Cammas. “We had a problem with the keel which lost us the 20-second advantage which we had over PUMA and PUMA took advantage well to overtake us. But apart from that we are happy with the race.”
Team Sanya scored their best result since the Iberdrola In-Port Race in Alicante, the first competitive racing of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.
“That was awesome,” said Sanya’s local boy Sanderson. “We’re just so stoked to be in the race but that was one step better because we had a couple of boats behind us.”
The fleet now faces its biggest challenge yet when they set sail from Auckland at 1400 local time on Sunday – the Southern Ocean.
The 6,705 nautical mile sprint around Cape Horn and on to Itajaí in Brazil will see the teams dodging icebergs and huge storms.
“The Southern Ocean is a fearsome place and deserves a great deal of respect,” said Telefónica watch captain Neal McDonald. “Climbing Everest is not particularly risk free or glamorous but people want to do it for the challenge and it’s the same with the Southern Ocean.”
Waves of 12 metres and winds of up to 60 knots are forecast and teams will use night-vision goggles to try to spot icebergs at night.
Three new sailors join the fleet for Leg 5. Anthony Nossiter from Australia is joining Abu Dhabi to replace the outgoing trimmer/helmsman Justin Ferris, Finnish Olympic gold medal winner Thomas Johanson takes over for the leg from injured Kelvin Harrap on PUMA and Danish Olympic gold medallist Martin Kirketerp steps up for Leg 5 on Sanya for Ryan Houston who picked up a kidney infection.
The Leg 5 start will be broadcast live from 1400 local time (0100 UTC) on Sunday. The leg should take the fleet around 17 days to complete.
Watch the action live at www.volvooceanrace.com or at the race’s Livestream page HERE. Coverage starts 15 minutes prior to the leg start.
Auckland In-Port Race results:
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (60min 38sec) 6pts
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (+0:54) 5pts
Groupama sailing team (+1:26) 4pts
Team Sanya (+2:20) 3pts
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (+2:52) 2 pts
Team Telefónica (+3:27) 1 pts
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 Boston, USA to Galway, Ireland
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Volvo Ocean Race Boston In Port Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 Finish - Rio de Janeiro, Brasil to Boston, USA
A tale of two very different races for the UBS In-Port Challenge – the first was led front to back by Ken Read’s PUMA team with barely a place change. The second race was only settled after an immaculate final gybe from Torben Grael and Ericsson 4 got them across the line in the lead, and gave them maximum points for the day – the Move of the Day.
Anyone in the fleet who thought that this team might be a little shaken and off their game, after a week in which they had to fend off a protest from the Rule Management Group, would have been sadly disappointed.
Pre-race expectations of some difficult conditions were fulfilled, with a puffy, shifty, northerly breeze blowing off the Singapore shore, and combining with a strong east-going tide to give everyone plenty to think about. While that did nothing to unsettle the rankings in the first race, in the second it provided plenty of passing lanes.