After winning three of the last four legs in the Volvo Ocean Race (and coming in second in the fourth), Dutch-flagged Brunel is now tied for first overall with Spanish-flagged Mapfre and Chinese-flagged Dongfeng following the completion of Leg 10 from Cardiff, Wales, to Gothenburg, Sweden. As a result, at the end of eight months of racing it’s all come down to the final leg from Gothenburg to The Hague, with a kind of three-boat “match race” now set to decide the overall winner. Before the start back in Cardiff, Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking’s had said his goal was to “beat the two red boats,” i.e., his Spanish and Chinese rivals, which is just what he did, setting up the current situation. The question is whether he and the rest of his surging team can do it again.
It all began back in the Southern Ocean on Leg 7, when Brunel turned around the less than stellar form it had shown thus far and grabbed its first win, despite being in sixth place overall. After that came a heartbreaking second-place finish in Newport, when Mapfre pulled ahead in the final moments of a windless finish in Narragansett Bay. Nonetheless, Brunel’s performance still helped it close the gap with Dongfeng, which finished fifth (and continued to hold the lead thanks in part of Maprfre’s having to temporarily suspend racing off Cape Horn in Leg 7 to repair a tattered main).
Then came Leg 9 across the Atlantic to Cardiff, a double-points leg, in which Brunel not only finished first, but Dongfeng finished third and Mapfre finished a disappointing fifth. This truly opened the door for the now clearly surging Brunel, which then promptly went storming through it in Leg 10. In fact, Bekking couldn’t have asked for better, with his team not only coming from behind to steal the win from Mapfre, but Dongfeng also fading dramatically after having seized the lead immediately after the leg’s light-air start, ultimately finishing fourth.
“We did a fantastic job as a team, and of course the result was better than we could have dreamed,” Bekking said, ashore in Gothenburg. “The pressure was on, but we knew we just needed to sail the boat the best we could and not do any crazy things. Very happy how it all ended up.”
“It was a very good leg for us and a good result as well, but a little bit painful the way it happened,” said Mapfre skipper, Xabi Fernández. “We felt we did the hardest part of the leg, up the coast of Scotland, and managed to be in the lead there, but we just couldn’t hold Brunel on the tight reaching. They’ve been improving a lot on the last legs, but it was a surprise to see such a speed difference.”
As for Dongfeng, skipper Charles Caudrelier has been growing increasingly frustrated of late with his team’s performance relative to his two rivals, but still, he is doing his best to remain optimistic. “For the fans, it’s going to be an exciting last leg,” he said of the final sprint to The Hague. “And for us as well. We will give all we have and try for our first leg victory. But really, we just have to be ahead of the other two. We can do it!”
For now though, its rest up for the crews and the boats back in shape for the shore teams. Leg 11, from Gothenburg to The Hague, is scheduled to start June 21. For the latest updates from Sweden, click here.