Volvo Ocean leaders set for epic Atlantic duel

The two leaders of the Volvo Ocean Race were back tussling for the lead as the nine-month, marathon offshore challenge headed back over the Atlantic for the final time on Monday.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing hold a six-point advantage over Chinese campaigners, Dongfeng Race Team, with three legs of nine still to negotiate.

Dongfeng held a slight 2.1-nautical mile (nm) advantage over the Emirati team at 1240 GMT on Monday after just under a day’s racing since the fleet left Newport, Rhode Island on Sunday.

The 2,800-nm seventh leg from Newport to Lisbon, Portugal, is the shortest of the race so far, but also one of the most treacherous.

On May 18, 2006, the last of the five fatalities so far in the 41-year history of the race occurred, when Dutch sailor Hans Horrevoets was swept overboard.

He was later recovered, but could not be resuscitated by his crew-mates.

Later on the same transatlantic leg, a Spanish boat, Movistar, began to take on water and the crew were forced to abandon ship before it sank in mid-Atlantic.

Typically, for this tough race, a competitor, ironically Horrevoets’ boat ABN AMRO TWO, rescued the Movistar crew.

Bouwe Bekking (Netherlands) was the skipper onboard Movistar and is back for a record-equalling seventh challenge in the 2014-15 on Team Brunel.

His experiences of 2006 are still vivid and he summed up at the pre-departure press conference last week, the hazards of this leg.

“If you just look at history in this next leg, lots of rigs have been broken, a boat has sunk, a person lost his life and we know we’re going to Europe so people will push so hard on this leg,” he said.

The leg, which is expected to take about nine days to complete, had a spectacular start on Sunday with a master class of in-shore seamanship and strategy in front of a packed shoreline and huge flotilla of spectator boats in Newport, Rhode Island, on Sunday.

The race’s only stopover in Newport, famous as the long-time host for the America’s Cup until the early 1980s, was a huge success with tens of thousands streaming into the race village.

Race CEO Knut Frostad described it as the most successful American stopover he had experienced in more than 20 years as a sailor and organiser of the event.

Sail Newport, which managed the stopover, is now involved in two months of negotiations with race organisers to seal a deal to bring it back again in the next edition in 2018.

After arriving in Lisbon next week, the boats will have a short maintenance period before setting out to Lorient, France, in early June. From there, they will sail to the final port of Gothenburg, Sweden, via a 24-hour pit-stop in The Hague.

The race concludes, after nine months and some 38,739nm sailed, on June 27, having visited 11 ports and every continent.

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