The battle for victory in Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race took a new twist on Friday as Dongfeng Race Team moved to within striking distance of long-term stage leaders Team Brunel.
Bouwe Bekking’s Brunel have seen their lead of 80 miles in the Southern Ocean and more than 30 miles at Cape Horn slashed to just 2.8 miles at 1300 UTC as Dongfeng pile on the pressure in the Atlantic.
The teams might have been hoping the weather gods would go easier on them in the South Atlantic following one of the most testing Southern Ocean passages the race has seen in recent history, but their wishes have yet to be granted.
As the Volvo Ocean 65s punched north-east at speeds of up to 20 knots, the already exhausted sailors were being tested even further towards their physical and mental limits.
Compounding the challenge is the closeness of the racing. An easterly-moving front swept across the back of the fleet first, allowing them to turn towards the north (and the finish in Itajaí, Brazil) much sooner than leaders Brunel.
Dongfeng and third-placed team AkzoNobel profited massively from Brunel’s misfortune, shaving huge chunks off their lead in just a few hours.
Having sailed more than 6,400 gruelling miles, around half of those at the front of the fleet, Brunel is now locked in yet another fight for the top spot that could go down to the wire.
“It’s painful for us because the boats behind us got the shift first,” Bekking said. “We’re going to come all back together again, but that’s yacht racing… It looks like the finish of this leg will all come down to the last 200 miles, which we’ve seen so many times. It will be game on.”
Behind the top three, two teams are racing at less than full capacity. MAPFRE is back on track after suspending racing for 13 hours at Cape Horn to make repairs. Despite being 200 miles off the lead, the Spanish team now has the inside lane.