The Volvo's Definitive Leg: We can’t imagine going halfway around the world, pushing ourselves for five months beyond the edge of exhaustion during six legs of the Volvo Ocean Race, only to look up and find out that the scoreboard was still wide open.
Would you be excited that there was still so much on the line for the remaining five legs? Or would that rational part of your brain kick in and start wondering why didn’t we save all of the time and effort by just starting the darn thing in Auckland to begin with?
And while we might find ourselves second-guessing career paths, the professional sailors in the Volvo Ocean Race seem to be loving the drama. Kind of makes sense when you think about it -- a lot of pro sailors do tend to be very dramatic. (Kidding! Sort of...)
Though it has to be said that two and a half days into this leg from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil, you might be hard pressed to find anyone on these boats that cares about the drama of the scoreboard. The teams are screaming along to the SSE, covering nearly 500nm in the last 24 hours. The idea for these first couple of days is to dive south as quickly as possible, turning east towards South America when the winds start to clock to the left. Getting there won’t be comfortable though -- the wind direction and sea state will be at odds, so the drivers are working overtime to keep the boats in one piece and being down below will feel a lot like being in a paint mixer.
So as the teams send it to the south, all within a few miles of each other, we turn our attention to what’s at stake on this leg. Even though nothing has been decided in the standings, MAPFRE and Dongfeng can start to really separate themselves from the rest of the fleet if they can score another podium on this leg. With double-points on the line, it will become very tricky, though not impossible (nothing is impossible, right UMBC!?!?) for the rest of the fleet to catch up with just four legs to go if they’re on the top steps again.
But boy howdy is this a leg where there will be plenty of opportunities for the overall leaders to put a foot wrong. The boats will sail an estimated 7,600nm (!) through the Southern Ocean, rounding iconic Cape Horn on their way north along South America to Brazil. When this particular leg was last raced in the 2014-2015 edition of the race, the fleet kind of took it in the teeth :
- the start was delayed by a 200-mph cyclone, leading to...
- a third of the sailors got seasick at the beginning of the leg.
- three boats wiped out into a Chinese gybe.
- Team SCA detonated their Fractional Code 0 and buggered their electronics.
- Dongfeng broke their mast and had to limp by engine to Itajai after a stop in Argentina.
- at one point Abu Dhabi Racing covered 551nm in a single day -- a 23kt average for 24 straight hours!
Conditions and distance aside, the trailing pack may not need the to trip the leaders up. Scallywag and AkzoNobel have really dialed it in over the past two legs, owning the podium and each racking up leg wins. Both teams have been showing greatly improved form over the past three legs and they’ll be on maximum attack to close the gap and keep the drama up until the very end.
Of course, all eyes will be on Vestas 11th Hour Racing as they rejoin the race following their collision with a fishing boat just miles from the Leg 4 finish in Hong Kong. As the team returns their focus to the race course, they’ll need to regain their old form quickly and recapture their speed and consistency if they want to be in the hunt for an overall podium. No easy task carrying the baggage/burden of the events in Hong Kong with them.
So here it is. If MAPFRE and Dongfeng get on the podium, the dreams of overall victory for the others teams will really start to get dim. But if they stumble, which is entirely possible, the rest of the fleet can jump right back into it. We're cheering for that, because it'll only turn up the wick on the competition as the fleet heads from Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island!