Brunel takes first in Itajai, Brazil

The Dutch yacht Team Brunel has won an exciting and very tense Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race. They crossed the finish line off Itajaí, Brazil at 14:57 UTC(unofficial) after a nail-biting final few miles where the Chinese entry Dongfeng breathed heavily down their necks. The last 500 miles leading to the finish were a cat and mouse game between the two boats but in the end it was Bouwe Bekking and his crew that won a sweet victory. It’s their first leg win of this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race and probably the sweetest moment of the race so far for them. Despite having one of the most talented sailors in the world on board, Kiwi America’s Cup skipper Peter Burling, Team Brunel have not really shone much this race but perhaps that’s all about to change. By picking up this leg win, plus bonus points for being the first boat to round Cape Horn, they have slid up the overall standings into third place for the race so far.

Team Brunel dominated Leg 7 taking the lead early on and defending it right up until the finish line. They led the fleet out of the Southern Ocean and back into the Atlantic, but were dealt a bit of a bad hand when they ran out of wind and the boats behind brought new breeze with them allowing Charles Caudrelier and the crew of Dongfeng to close to spitting distance. In the end it was magic fingers of Peter Burling who coaxed the boat across the finish line in light, drifting conditions to seal the deal for Team Brunel.

Yann Riou/Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 06 on board Brunel. 51 South. 35-38 knots of wind. Three reefs in the main sail. Top boatspeed of the day 36.1 knots. D24 March, 2018.

Leg 7 will probably go down as one of the toughest legs of this race and perhaps one of the toughest legs in recent memory. The fleet started out having to immediately dive south to avoid a patch of high pressure and that took them into the cold waters without much time to acclimatize. From there it was a breakneck charge along the exclusion zone added as part of the race rules to stop the yachts from venturing too far south and into iceberg territory. The yachts raced a razor-thin line between the exclusion zone and low-pressure systems barreling in from the west and the speeds rarely dropped below 20 knots. It was tense sailing made all the more tense after the news that John Fisher, crew aboard Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag, had been washed overboard and was lost at sea.

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It was clear that the Southern Ocean had taken more of a toll on the fleet than usual when the Spanish entry Mapfre suspended racing at Cape Horn to work on their damaged mainsail and mast track. That news was followed shortly thereafter by news from Turn the Tide on Plastic indicating that they too had mast problems. Fortunately Dee Caffari and her crew were able to jury rig something that was good enough to allow them to continue racing.

Mast Accident on board Vestas 11th HourJeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Rac
The Southern Ocean takes its toll: Mast Accident on board Vestas 11th Hour.

Then there was a dismasting aboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing. At the time of the dismasting,Vestas was sailing in a 25 to 30-knot northerly wind with 3-meter waves but the mast buckled above the first spreader and tumbled over the side. The crew was able to cut the mast away before it did any real damage to the hull and they motored to the Falkland Islands where they are trying to assess what’s next for them. Meanwhile Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag have retired from the leg and made landfall in Chile.

Dongfeng Race Team finished a close second into Itajaí with the rest of the fleet (still racing) quite far astern. Third place boat Team AkzoNobel is expected to finish later this week.