The Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) is rapidly in the process of winding down, with just two offshore legs and a single in-port race still left on the docket. But to think that the action has ended would be a massive misconception. True, Ericsson 4 has now built up a virtually unassailable top spot on the leader board, but now the real game is between Puma Ocean Racing and Telefonica Blue. These two well-sailed and meticulously run programs are separated by a mere single point, and temperatures will only continue to rise in the next month as the two programs tussle for the silver-place position.
Leg Eight, from Galway, Ireland to Gteborg, Sweden proved testing. The North Sea is renowned for dolling out a punishment at the drop of the hat, and this was the case as the fleet charged through sharp square waves, big wind fluctuations, and some seriously fast sailing. Once again, Torben Grael’s magnificently sailed E4 surged into the lead and held it, although Ian Walker’s Green Dragon held tough, ultimately securing a third-place finish after Ken Read’s il mostro (Puma) pulled a juggernaut from the west, with a bone in their teeth and serious motivation to trump Telefonica Blue, the team that until this leg held second place by a mere one point.
But what is interesting about il mostro’s strong finish was the fact that some 48 hours prior to the finish, it looked as though they were completely out of the hunt. The head patch failed on their big masthead kite, forcing America’s “hometown” team to fly smaller sails and deeper angles, as the rest of the fleet chased stronger winds to the east. As a result, il mostro found herself sailing alone, to the west, as Justin Ferris and Rob Salthouse pulled a magic trick with the sewing machine, fixing the once-destroyed sail in appalling conditions. Skipper Ken Read attributes this sail to their second-place finish, as the last 20 miles of the racetrack were an all-out drag race with Green Dragon, whom they slayed within the last few hours of play.
Read likes to joke that il mostro can’t do anything “normal”, as legs in which nothing breaks tend to be G-rated for the men in red and black, whereas times when carbon or Cuben fibers fail are when the hometown boys sail their fastest. An odd sentiment perhaps, but dead true: in Leg Seven, from Boston to Ireland, they suffered a broken rudder that all but put them out to pasture. Luckily, the team executed a perfect repair job, thanks to Casey Smith and Shannon Falcone (as well as many other Puma sailors), which put them back in the running. Ultimately, Puma sailed into Galway in second place, putting them solidly back in the hunt for a second-place finish.
Currently, with only two offshore legs remaining and one more in-port battle left, you can expect serious competition between Tele Blue and il mostro. And as Read also likes to say, “the competition isn’t over until somebody takes our docking lines in St. Petersburg [Russia].” This will occur within the month, sad for us VOR pundits, but exciting given the red-hot level of sailing that we are witnessing from the Spanish and the Americans at the moment.