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Coming Into Focus: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Leg 2

Right up to the start in Cape Town on November 19, the pundits were saying the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, to Abu Dhabi, was going to be an unpredictable one, and boy were they right!
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Right up to the start in Cape Town on November 19, the pundits were saying the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, to Abu Dhabi, was going to be an unpredictable one, and boy were they right!

Beyond the obvious—Team Vestas grounding on a clearly marked reef a couple of hundred miles off Mauritius—much of the leg consisted of sweating it out and chasing puffs for hundreds of miles under the equatorial sun through glassy, bathtub-warm water. It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast to the “good-old days” of the Whitbread, when the second leg was a full-on drag race through the Southern Ocean from Cape Town to Australia or New Zealand. The problem then was typically too much wind, the only thing you had to worry about running into was an iceberg (or maybe an errant whale) and it was hypothermia you had to dress for, not jock itch.

Team Vestas Grounding through the Eyes of the Boat’s Onboard Reporter

Brian Carlin, the onboard media crew for Team Vestas, talks about what it was like when his Volo Ocean 65 drove up on a remote reef in the Indian Ocean.

Nonetheless, for superlative seamanship, it would once again be hard to top that displayed by the teams competing in the 2014-15 VOR. As any racing sailing will tell you, light-air racing can be just as tough, if not tougher, than racing in a blow, with big gains and losses sometimes taking place in the blink of an eye. And for the VOR fleet, the entire second half of the 5,185 mile leg consisted of a series of cat-and-mouse duels as the six remaining boats wended their way through and around various calms and the treacherous Strait of Hormuz.

In the end, it was Dutch-flagged Team Brunel edging out China’s Dongfeng Race Team by a paltry 12 minutes for the win, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing filling out the podium spots less than three hours later. In fact, it was only when the two lead boats were within sight of the finish that Team Brunel finally pulled ahead for good with the help of a fortuitous puff of wind. "It is a good feeling," Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking said afterward. "I’ve always said, it’s better to be lucky than good, but we’ve been good this leg as well, so it’s so nice to win this one, because it could have been an easy leg to finish last…. We [also] sailed the boat much better than in the first leg. So that’s the nicest feeling of all.

As for Charles Caudrelier, the French skipper aboard Donfeng, he was clearly having a hard time reconciling himself to second place after such a close finish. “Brunel have been much faster than us [for] a few days, and we don’t know why,” he said. “We’re a bit disappointed, because we did a good job to pass them, but they kept passing us.”

This now makes two VOR legs in a row in which the top two boats were battling within a mile of one another right up to the end. It’s incredible to think that only a few short years ago, a delta of a few hours was considered a photo finish.

In contrast to roll-of-the-dice tactical nature of Leg 2, the results sent a clear signal as to which teams seemed to have best figured out how to make their Volvo Ocean 65 one-designs go. The same three boats have now occupied all three podium positions in the first two legs—albeit in different order, so that they are now tied at four points apiece, with Team Brunel technically on top since they are the most recent to win a leg. Next is U.S. skipper Charlie Enright’s Team Alvimedica with 10 points, then Spain’s Mapfre with 11 and the all-women Team SCA with 12.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Adil Khalid on his Second VOR

For Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Adil Khalid, his second Volvo Ocean Race is as much of a dream as his first.

Even more important than the point standings is the fact that the three leaders appear to be racing at a whole different level from the tail end of the fleet. Granted, Team Alvimedica is a special case because it suspended racing for nearly 10 hours to stand by after Team Vestas ran aground, (and is currently looking for redress to compensate for that fact). However, when they did start racing again, it never really felt like they ever had a chance to close up the gap.

Same thing with Mapfre, which brought on two new crew after finishing dead last in Leg 1: the team made one mistake, separating from the fleet early on in search of wind, and that was it. Blame it on Lady Luck or the fickle winds of the western Indian Ocean, but as soon as the three leaders broke away, the fact that they and Team Alvimedica would be battling for fourth felt like a foregone conclusion.

As for Team SCA, the crew is clearly frustrated with its performance thus far, despite beating Mapfre at the last moment in Leg 1, spending much of this most recent leg hundreds of miles behind the rest of the fleet. “It’s still a learning process,” said SCA skipper, Sam Davies. “Every condition is a good opportunity to keep learning and keep making the boat go a bit faster. We made a navigational mistake, which put us behind and then it became a procession. That was hard.”

That having been said, the VOR is a long race, and there’s still plenty of time for the heroes of today to look like zeros, and vice versa. There next chance for that to possibly happen will be when the fleet jumps off for the 4,670-mile leg to Sanya, China, on January 3.



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