LISBON, Portugal, (Reuters) - Dutch boat Team Brunel, skippered and navigated by two 50-plus sailors, won the transatlantic seventh leg of the Volvo Ocean Race early on Wednesday following a thrilling finish after nine days at sea.
Dutchman Bouwe Bekking, 51, is undertaking a record-equaling seventh appearance in offshore sailing’s most prestigious event, alongside Australian navigator Andrew Cape, 52, who is in his sixth race.
That huge combined experience paid dividends after their lead at the front of the fleet was cut to a mile by Spanish challengers, MAPFRE, in a pre-dawn finish in virtually windless conditions in the Portuguese capital.
But Bekking and Cape kept their heads and calmly steered Brunel home with 22 minutes to spare for their second stage win of the event.
The result leaves them in third position, just six points behind overall leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who could only finish in fifth place on the 2,800nm leg from Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.
"We sailed a tremendous leg, but just at the end when there was no wind, it was getting a bit gnarly,” Bekking told reporters. "But we pulled it off."
Behind the leading two, Dongfeng Race Team (China) lost out in an even closer battle for third spot with Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S) by 55 seconds.
The result is costly for Dongfeng, who had been hoping to make big inroads into Abu Dhabi’s overall event lead. They now lie five points behind the Emirati boat in second place but only one clear of Team Brunel.
Dongfeng’s French skipper Charles Caudrelier angrily blamed himself after a botched tack in a dogfight with Team Alvimedica for finishing fourth in a leg they had led for long periods.
"I'm feeling very bad, very upset and very sad," he told reporters.
"Most of all, I'm upset with myself because my crew did a great job and I made a huge mistake - and I don't accept mistakes. We really missed a chance in this leg with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing finishing fifth."
The all-women’s crew of Team SCA (Sweden) finished sixth, some three hours after the leaders.
The nine-month race’s final two legs take the seven boats to France and then Sweden, the latter via a pit-stop in The Hague.
In all, the fleet will have covered 38,739nm and visited 11 ports around the world when the event is concluded on June 27 in Gothenburg.
Current latest standings (low points wins, In-Port Race Series splits ties):
1) Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 16 pts
2) Dongfeng Race Team (China) 21
3) Team Brunel (Netherlands) 22
4) MAPFRE (Spain) 26
5) Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) 27
6) Team SCA (Sweden) 41
7) Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 52 (DNS).
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)