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
The Challenge and Adventure Team was out on the water aboard Privateer for the Volvo In Port Races in Boston on Saturday.
The day belonged to Telefonica Blue. They were already the most successful inshore team, claiming two wins, one second and a third from the four in-port sessions before today. This afternoon, in the light breezes their boat loves most, they led from start to finish in both races with more than a minute to spare at the end of each one.
“Good day, we did really well,” said Iker Martinez, their inshore skipper. “We are very happy. It might have looked easy but it was not easy at all.”
Bouwe Bekking, the team’s offshore skipper and inshore tactician, was in the mood for understatements. “It could have been worse,” he said. “We like this weather, but we still had to pull it off and we did. We made it a bit hard for ourselves on the second beat in the second race, when we had an easy lay and the chute came off. We had to tack back and reach into the gate mark. But we did well in difficult conditions.”
Indeed, the wind shifted by as much as 40 degrees during the racing, while its speed danced anywhere between five and 12 knots. A thick fog swept the course in the second race for dramatic effect. “Not easy conditions,” said Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael, a man who was also far from unhappy.
His team took third in the first race and second in the latter, a spectacular outcome given they crossed the start line early and had to return and cross again alongside Ericsson 3 and PUMA. It earned them second place for the day.
“Blue had a good day and we didn’t have a good start in the second so the result was good,” Grael said. “We were a bit unlucky in the first race. We had a very good start (before going left). Yesterday in the practice the left was nice so everyone wanted to go left, but it didn’t pay. The race is so short it is difficult to come back. The second race was the opposite. We are happy.”
The result means Blue reduce their overall deficit by half a point to 12-and-a-half points. “If it shrinks by just half a point in all the remaining legs I will be pretty happy,” Grael added.
Bekking remained bullish. “We beat them and that is all we can hope for,” he said. “We can keep trying and if we keep winning I’m happy. We just need teams to get in between us and them.”
For a time that team seemed likely to be Delta Lloyd, the born again heroes of this event.
For the second straight in-port event, Roberto Bermudez’s team bagged the final step of the podium. It could have been even better – they were second in the first race and held third midway through the second before falling to sixth – but their third-placed finish overall put a smile on Bermudez’s face.
Boston In Port Race Images by George Bekris
(click on photo to enlarge)
“It’s good,” he said. “We sailed well. We sailed magnificently in the first but the second was worse. We made a few bad manoeuvres and a few bad calls. But this is a good position. We need to continue.”
His navigator Wouter Verbraak was a bit more effusive. “It’s amazing, someone is looking over us,” he said. “We practiced and practiced and it paid off. Big boats are all about communication and we knew we had to improve that. It’s all to do with attitude and we are getting better all the time.”
There were further smiles on Ericsson 3. They have been a revelation offshore – tying for second in finishes and holding the spot outright at scoring gates – but inshore they had been the worst of the seven active teams, taking two sixth-placed finishes, one seventh and one “did not start”. Initially today did not look much better. They were sixth in the first race, partly the consequence of a Green Dragon foul that left them sat motionless for two minutes. And they crossed the line early in the second. However, in the latter they battled back superbly in the bigger breeze and took third.
Skipper Magnus Olsson was in typically expressive mood with the final allocation of fourth place. “It’s a big step forward for us,” he laughed. “From now on we will always be on the podium in the in-port races! In the first race we were so bad I fired everybody, but because I couldn’t find any new ones I had to hire everyone back so they can stay.”
Watch leader Richard Mason added: “A step in the right direction; got a monkey off our back a little bit in the second race result. We were miles over at the start which was a little disappointing in the second, but we hung in there and did well. We have some more steps to make, but it was a good step.”
Black were fifth after a fifth and a fourth, but skipper Fernando Echavarri was hardly overjoyed. “Not really happy,” he said. His team were second going into the final run, but they became entangled in a lobster pot line early in the race and he lamented the cost. “The second race at the beginning of the first upwind we hit a buoy with our keel and it slowed the boat.”
Ken Read was the most glum. The PUMA skipper had been on the podium in all four in-port races, but today could manage no better than a fourth and a fifth, which owing to other teams’ performances left them sixth. He crossed the start line early in the second race, capping for him a bad day in the light conditions his boat dislikes.
“Just a disappointing day,” he said. “If we were to write a script for a condition where our boat performs in front of a home crowd, this would have been last on the list. But we were a point out of third, that’s how close everyone was. But you make a mistake on the starting line like I did on the second race, you don’t deserve to be on the podium. You can’t make a mistake like that in this fleet.”
The result, helped in no small part by Delta Lloyd’s jump up the pecking order, has left them fall a further two-and-a-half points to three behind Blue.
Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker was seventh in both races and understandably disappointed.
“We could have done better,” he said, before recalling the incident at the first rounding of the opening that forced his team to do a penalty turn.