Volvo Ocean Race Cliffhanger

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 After a strong showing in the early stages of the race, including a pair of wins in Legs 2 and 3, Spanish-flagged Mapfre now finds itself very much looking like the underdog    

 After a strong showing in the early stages of the race, including a pair of wins in Legs 2 and 3, Spanish-flagged Mapfre now finds itself very much looking like the underdog    

After racing over 44,000 miles round the world and battling their way past the world’s great capes, including the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, it’s all come down to the final 700-mile leg from Gothenburg, Sweden, to the Hague. Brunel, Mapfre, Dongfeng: going into the homestretch, and after more ups and downs than we mere mortals could ever imagine, it’s come down to this. Whichever team comes out on top in Leg 11 wins the 2018-19 Volvo Ocean Race. Simple as that, a truly epic offshore showdown for the ages. Never in the 45-year history of the race has the competition been this close heading into the final leg. Sailing fans, it doesn’t get any better than this!

“It’s amazing to see three boats on the same points,” said Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier. “I think one of these three teams deserve to win the race. Now it’s up to us to push harder to be ahead of these guys in The Hague. We know it’s going to be a big fight. It’s good for the race, and we’re excited and ready to go.”

 The three leading skippers (from left) Mapfre’s Xabi Fernández, Team Brunel’s Bouwe Bekking and Donfeng’s Charles Caudrelier recently met with the press to talk about the challenges ahead   

 The three leading skippers (from left) Mapfre’s Xabi Fernández, Team Brunel’s Bouwe Bekking and Donfeng’s Charles Caudrelier recently met with the press to talk about the challenges ahead   

“We are in an amazing situation now, we have three boats, equal points, one leg to go. I am very happy to be among these three boats and fighting,” said Mapfre skipper Xabi Fernández. “But we know that only one will win. We have one mission. We have to beat them.”

As for Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking, in many ways the one responsible for this showdown, he seems not just cool, but confident.

“We’re in the flow,” Bekking said. “If you look at the leaderboard, we’re going faster on every leg. Last leg we found some new gears, and I think that’s a good thing. We have ended up with a team that we’re really happy with. Last but not least, I’m sailing in my home waters. I’ve lived in Denmark for more than 25 years. And, of course, the place where we finish, I’ve grown up over there. We have all the ingredients to win the race.”

Heavens! For Bekking’s sake, let’s hope he knocked on wood after making such a statement!

 Like Mapfre, there was a time when Dongfeng looked like the boat to beat. Now it feels like the joint French/Chinese effort has its back against the wall    

 Like Mapfre, there was a time when Dongfeng looked like the boat to beat. Now it feels like the joint French/Chinese effort has its back against the wall    

As for Bekking’s “home waters,” as he calls them, he has a point. In addition to being extremely short by VOR standards, Leg 11 will offer a surfeit of tactical challenges that will give little if any sleep for the crews until after they reach the finish. It’s the kind of leg will even a little local knowledge can make all the difference in the world.

To start things out, the fleet will not sail west toward the North Sea, whence it most recently arrived into Gothenburg, but south into the Kattegat where it will round a turning mark off the Danish city of Aarhus. After that, it’s back up the Kattegat again, round the northernmost point of Jutland, then south again through the North Sea and past the coasts of Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands toward the Hague.

 Ever since winning Leg 7, from New Zealand to Brazil, Dutch-flagged Brunel has just seemed to get better and better    

 Ever since winning Leg 7, from New Zealand to Brazil, Dutch-flagged Brunel has just seemed to get better and better    

Along the way, the seven boats will have to deal with everything from the sometimes wildly variable weather in the area to the effects of the nearby land, the regions often dramatic tidal flows and the nasty chop for which the North Sea notorious if ever the wind pics up. The word “epic” is one that’s become terribly overused these days. But if ever there was a sailboat race that had earned this moniker, the VOR and Leg 11, in particular, are it.

For the latest on Leg 11, which starts Thursday, June 21 at 1200 UTC (0600 Easter Time), click here

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