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Volvo Ocean Race: Abu Dhabi fend off fleet-wide attacks

29/05/2012
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Leg leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) are fast reaching towards the Portuguese coast and clinging on to a diminishing lead over the chasing pack as the six teams ride the cold front on Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Miami to Lisbon.

With 1,000 nm left of this 3,590-nm Atlantic leg, and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) now within 30 nm of the lead, all Ian Walker and his men can do is to pray that for once the weather gods are on their side and that they enter and exit ridge of light wind ahead in first place. At 0700 GMT today, all six boats in the fleet were within 66 nm of the lead and all but Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) were sailing faster than Abu Dhabi.

“As predicted, our lead is rapidly vanishing before our eyes,” said skipper Ian Walker. “The fact that we knew this would happen means we are all calm about it and fully focused on what lies ahead,” the skipper said.

The final stage of the leg is throwing up some tactical challenges as the fleet approaches a light air trough. “It’s a full on drag race to a parking lot,” observed CAMPER co-skipper Stu Bannatyne. For Abu Dhabi, it is a question of keeping focused. Navigator Jules Salter says it is important that the team just sail their own race and keep the boat going as fast as possible towards what they believe to be the most forgiving part of the ridge.

On board CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS), who dropped to fourth when Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) moved up a gear, thoughts of the final push are already keeping skipper Chris Nicholson and navigator Will Oxley fully occupied.

“We are already looking at the end and how we can best get across the light air zone and finish first into Lisbon,” said Nicholson who is convinced there will be further compression in the fleet. “It’s about almost picking the point where you want to cross the light air zone as soon as possible and just wriggling your way north or south to line up in that position, but that position right now, we don’t know,” he said.

The team had a close encounter with a whale earlier, but thanks to the sharp response of helmsman Chuny Bermúdez, disaster was averted.

“With reflexes like a cat, Chuny narrowly missed what could have been the equivalent of a runaway freight train colliding with a truck," wrote MCM Hamish Hooper. "We were doing just over 20 knots and all of a sudden, the boat lurched to starboard, just staying in control.

"Chuny looks as he had just seen his life flash before his eyes."

Fortunately no harm was done, and no downtime was had even when one of the steering cables broke earlier in the night. It has now been quickly repaired.

At 0700 GMT today, the fleet was 215 nm north east of the Azores and still clicking off the miles to the finish at boat speeds of around 20-22 knots, with a lateral north/south separation of 30 nm. The first boat is expected to cross the finish in Lisbon after 1200 GMT on Thursday.

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