NEWPORT, Rhode Island (Reuters) - The six-strong Volvo Ocean Race fleet headed into the North Atlantic for the second and final time on Sunday as the nine-month offshore marathon approached its European climax.
After a successful stopover in the marine-focused Rhode Island town of Newport, the boats set out for the 2,800-nautical mile (nm) seventh leg to Lisbon which will take them around nine days to complete. After that, they face two more legs, to Lorient, France, and finally, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by British double Olympic silver medalist Ian Walker, carried a six-point advantage over Chinese challengers Dongfeng Race Team into the final three stages of the 38,739nm event which started last October.
However, with a third of the race’s points still up for grabs, the event is anything but decided and Dongfeng proved they have by no means given up hope of catching the Emirati boat by winning the previous leg to Newport from the Brazilian city of Itajaí.
Dutch boat Team Brunel are four points further adrift and their 51-year-old skipper Bouwe Bekking has conceded that his chance of catching Walker’s crew is slim unless Abu Dhabi suffer a serious breakage before the race’s finale in Gothenburg on June 27.
Spanish boat MAPFRE are no longer realistically in with a chance of taking the overall prize but they are now in some of their best form of the race, winning an in-port race in Newport on Saturday and then leading the fleet after a lap of the town’s Narragansett Bay on Sunday.
Abu Dhabi finished this opening course, which does not count as a point-scoring exercise, at the back of the fleet.
The Atlantic leg ahead features numerous hazards for the fleet with ocean debris, whales, fishing vessels and wildly fluctuating weather to negotiate.
Nine years ago in the race, the stage claimed the life of Dutch sailor Hans Horrevoets and a Spanish boat, Movistar, sunk.
Not surprisingly, when Walker was asked by a reporter what his top priority was from the leg, he replied: “Easy, to arrive safely in Lisbon.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)