Ian Walker’s men made an 11th hour charge for the Sharjah finish line at the end of a 106 nautical mile sprint from their home town, overhauling long-term leaders Team Telefónica and second-placed Groupama sailing team with less than three nautical miles to go to claim a maximum six points at 1629 UTC.
Victory, by a margin of just one minute 16 seconds, followed hot on the heels of their resounding success in Friday’s Etihad Airways In-Port Race and came in stark contrast to their disappointing fifth place arrival into their home port at the end of Leg 2.
“It was a very good two days for us,” said a jubilant Walker following the sprint from Abu Dhabi, the first Middle Eastern stopover in the Volvo Ocean Race’s 38-year history.
“I think what everybody is seeing here is what all the skippers have been saying all along, we have five very good boats and five very good teams and it’s easy to be last. Telefónica, you thought they would win that hands down with the lead they had and it’s just not that easy because you’ve got very good people behind you and you don’t need to do much wrong for people to come past.”
PUMA Ocean Racing also staged an impressive comeback rising through the fleet from fifth to second in the dying moments to claim five points. Skipper Ken Read said the result made up for the disappointing fourth-place finish in the in-port race.
“For sure we were going faster in the reaching conditions,” Read said. “The tweaks that we’ve done have obviously appear to have helped in those conditions, so we’re very pleased about that. We weren’t real stellar in that triangle out of the bay, but on the reach we were pretty quick. Tactically on the long run coming into here, we picked the correct side of the course so it was a nice comeback for the good guys.”
Franck Cammas’ Groupama took the final podium position and four points while Telefónica, led by Iker Martínez, had to settle for fourth place and three points after being reeled in on the home strait. Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand took fifth, scoring two points.
The buzz on the dock prior to the start was about the advantage of leading the fleet round the inshore course and out to sea. Telefónica appeared to have buried the demons that saw them relegated to the back of the fleet in yesterday’s in-port race, leading from the moment the starting gun fired.
Cricketers Alistair Cook and Graeme Swann sampled life on board a Volvo Open 70 ahead of England's first Test against Pakistan in Dubai next week as they joined Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for the race start, before diving into the Gulf from the speeding yacht.
Some slick sailing from Abu Dhabi saw them jump from fifth to second around the inshore course, while PUMA skipper Ken Read locked horns with Franck Cammas on Groupama in an aggressive close-quarters combat.
After more than 100nm of racing it came down to the final 10-mile sprint to the finish line, with Telefónica leading the fleet around the final turning mark. But in a replay of the Leg 2 Stage 2 sprint Team Telefónica couldn’t defend their lead, and Martínez’s team were helpless to the attack of the chasing pack.
As with Leg 2 of the race, Leg 3 is split into two parts to prevent the boats from sailing through dangerous waters off the coast of Africa. The fleet will be loaded onto a ship in Sharjah and transported to a safe haven port in the Indian Ocean. Once the boats are unloaded, racing will resume to Sanya around January 23, and the first boats could reach Sanya by February 4.
Team Sanya, forced to retire from Leg 2 with rig damage, will meet the fleet at the safe haven port and rejoin racing for Leg 3 Stage 2. They can still score points for Leg 2 and the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi In-Port Race if they complete Leg 2 Stage 1 under racing conditions.*
* If Team Sanya complete Leg 2 Stage 1 in racing conditions they will score the following points: 4pts for Leg 2 Stage 1, 1pt for Leg 2 Stage 2 and 2pts for Abu Dhabi In-Port Race (a total of 7pts).