NEWPORT, Rhode Island (Reuters) - Chinese challengers Dongfeng Race Team won an enthralling duel with event leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to claim the sixth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race late on Wednesday and reignite their hopes of an overall victory.
Dongfeng had been forced to retire during the previous leg to Itajai, Brazil, when their mast broke in the Southern Ocean, 200 nautical miles (nm) from Cape Horn.
The crew nursed their stricken boat to safety but the shore crew had just under a week to repair the vessel and fit a new rig ready for the start of the stage from Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island.
Skipper Charles Caudrelier and his crew then sailed a brilliant leg to wrest victory from Abu Dhabi but were pushed all the way in the final 24 hours, winning with just three minutes and 25 seconds to spare.
Dutch challengers Team Brunel finished third, under an hour behind the leading two, with Spanish boat MAPFRE in fourth. Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) looked likely to claim fifth ahead of Team SCA (Sweden), which has an all-women crew.
Caudrelier paid tribute to his shore crew for setting up the victory.
"For this leg, the goal was to be ready in Itajai and the (shore) crew did a fantastic job. I'd like to give them credit for the victory," he told reporters. Caudrelier's hopes of victory had looked in serious jeopardy two days after the April 19 start of the leg when the electronic water-maker, which converts sea water into drinking water, broke down.
The Frenchman said if his crew had not been able to repair it, they would have had to make a 12-hour stop.
The boats will now have 10 days in dock for maintenance before returning to the offshore action with the transatlantic leg to Lisbon, Portugal.
Two legs to France and Sweden follow before the 38,739nm event concludes on June 27 in Gothenburg.
1) Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 11 pts
2) Dongfeng Race Team 17
3) Team Alvimedica 19*
4) Team Brunel 21
5) MAPFRE 24
6) Team SCA 29*
7) Team Vestas 44
(Lowest number of points wins, *indicates boats yet to finish leg six)
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)