How tough has the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race been on the competitors? Perhaps Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier put it best just south of the equator.
“We’re feeling the pain, but I’m not too worried. It’s not just us, it’s the other boats too. When a competitor comes up to you on the dock and says, ‘This is my last ever Volvo, never again,' while he’s fighting for the victory, you know that, he too, is struggling and not even trying to hide it.”
Meanwhile, the ever-haggard-looking Ian Walker, skipper for overall race leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, is apparently feeling it as well, despite a seven-point lead over the competition.
“This is one of the first times we’ve seen Ian admit to what we can all see and feel, the tension and fatigue he experiences every waking–and sleeping–moment when the racing is close,” says Matt Knighton, the race reporter aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam. “
Heading into the home stretch, it’s looking once again like it’s going to be a tactically challenging dead heat right up to the finish off Newport’s Fort Adams, sometime May 7th. Early on in this, the 5,000-mile sixth leg of the race, the all-female crew aboard Team SCA held the lead. After that, it looked as if Azzam was going to have a chance to separate from the rest of the fleet. But like a peloton of riders in the Tour de France, the six evenly matched boats are forever able to reel back in anybody trying to make a break.
As for going off on a flyer in search of a better apparent wind angle or more pressure, that of course, also puts you at risk of having to endure worse conditions—as Alvimedica did in a move that promptly dropped the boat to second to last, forcing the crew to play catchup ever since.
As the fleet began its approach to the U.S. Coast, it remained tightly bunched with less than 30 miles separating the first five boats and Team SCA another 40 miles behind as the crew continud to struggle with boatspeed. The next challenge will be playing the weather systems spinning off North American and the Gulf Stream, with the possibility of the wind dropping off prompting a re-start any day—and heaven help the crews if its light and fluky as they make their approach to Narragansett Bay.
Beyond that, in many ways the other highlight of Leg 6 has been Dongfeng’s incredible performance in the wake of the boat’s dismasting in the Southern Ocean. Despite the fact that the team had to step a new rig in a fraction of the time it normally would, the boat has jumped right back into the thick of things, alternately trading the lead with Azzam and the veteran crew aboard the Dutch-flagged Brunel—yet more evidence of the incredible level of seamanship on display in this, the most competitive Volvo Ocean Race ever.