With perhaps not too much more than a couple days until boats can be expected to start arriving in port in Abu Dhabi for the completion of the Volvo Ocean Race's second leg, Azzam is furiously trying to close a small gap between the two frontrunners.
About a week ago, locked in a tight battle with Donfgeng Race Team and Team Brunel, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker made a tactical decision to diverge from their competitors.
Matt Knighton, the ADOR onboard reporter, wrote at that time on the team blog:
“That transition is the next question mark in the routing; a “secondary Doldrums” between the Northeast Monsoon and the Westerly Trade Winds that potentially could shake up the leaderboard. For the first time in the race, Ian is surprisingly satisfied not being able to see the other two boats – we’re not sure if it’s confidence or the bliss of not knowing,”
Said Walker: “I dunno, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Part of me thinks you don’t sail the boat properly because you react to what other people are doing. At the moment I’m quite enjoying the freedom of being just close enough to be in touch but far enough away that we don’t obsess about what they do.”
The move away from the other boats seemed like it backfired early on.
“Over the last three scheds we have bled mileage to the surprisingly stronger winded boats now seventy miles to windward; surprisingly because it’s been the exact opposite of the forecast,” wrote Knighton about Saturday’s progress.
About 24 hours later, the afternoon (evening in the UAE) positions report on Sunday showed ADOR flagging, from a lead 24 hours before to six nautical miles off the lead pace of Brunel.
“It’s been a battle all day; seemingly bleeding miles to the two teams to windward,” wrote Knighton.
“C’mon wind...” he quoted Walker saying.
Knighton summarised what ADOR needed:
“We need a lift – a shift in the wind rotating to the right – to help us gain speed and have a chance at beating Brunel and Dongfeng to the next mark on the course.”
Another 24 hours passed, and it was clear Azzam wasn't getting one – they'd fallen fast, to 34 miles behind Brunel, with Dongfeng 23 miles ahead in second.
“We’re past rationalising our decision to split from them; their gamble towards the east simply paid out more,” wrote Knighton.
But, he noted: “The good news: they’re only 30nm ahead.”
It got worse before it got better, with Azzam reaching a nadir of 44.4nm behind by later Tuesday.
And then, finally, a breakthrough. By Wednesday afternoon Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had made up almost half that distance, sitting 24.7nm beind, and in the latest report at 6.40am UTC (10.40am UAE) on Thursday, they had inched a little closer – 21.2nm behind Brunel, who maintain just a 3.6nm lead on Dongfeng.
It still may prove too much, with only 340 miles separating Brunel from Abu Dhabi shores and little in the way of the kind of disparate conditions that could give Azzam a big boost.
Still, the hope is there again, and Knighton describes an excitement building in Emirati sailor Adil Khalid ahead of his imminent homecoming:
“Adil has been bouncing around the boat for the past 24 hours – a trend that surely will increase as we keep ticking off the miles to Abu Dhabi.
“His heart beats for the UAE and one can be sure his proudest moment is only days away: flying the Emirati flag in front of thousands of his fellow countrymen.”
Says Khalid himself: “Last time was a great experience for me to be the first Arab to sail the Volvo Ocean Race. At the end of the day I’m doing it for all the people in Abu Dhabi.”
Meanwhile, aboard Brunel, onboard reporter Stefan Coppers relays the mood of a buoyant skipper Bouwe Bekking:
“How many Legs have I won in the Volvo Ocean Race? I would say about eight? I’m not sure. I’d have to count again. But not enough however!” says Bouwe Bekking, laughing while he surfs his Brunel smoothly across the waves.
“High time we add another one to the list.”
And Yann Riou, aboard Dongfeng, highlights what can be expected from the next 48 or so hours:
“For sure we’d prefer to be going into it with a 15 mile lead, rather than a 15 mile deficit, but we are sure that everything remains possible – including being passed by Abu Dhabi by the way.
“This final part of the leg is going to be exciting.”
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