ALICANTE, Spain (AP) After two weeks and nearly 4,000 nautical miles of sailing, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet was still locked together on Sunday with any of the six boats in with a chance of winning the sixth leg to Newport, Rhode Island.
Newport is staging North America’s only stopover in the nine-month, 38,739 nautical miles round-the-world offshore race and with just five days and 1,000 nautical miles to sail, looks likely to host the most exciting finish so far.
Chinese challengers Dongfeng Race Team were narrowly ahead early Sunday with a 4.3 nautical mile advantage over Dutch crew, Team Brunel, with the overall race leader, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, just under 6 nautical miles further behind.
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Just 4.8 nautical miles behind the leading three were the American crew of Team Alvimedica, desperate to win the race to their home port, the Spanish team MAPFRE, and the all-female crew Team SCA (Sweden).
Team SCA was bringing up the rear, 48.6 nautical miles behind the leader, but making the fastest gains overnight to the east of the fleet in the mid-Atlantic.
Briton Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi, predicted the tightest leg finish of an already closely contested race when the boats arrive in Newport on Thursday.
”In 350nautical miles, we have to cross a front that is likely to have no wind. This could mean the whole fleet compressing further,” he wrote in a message to his team on Sunday.
”There is an increasing likelihood of very little wind in the last 100 nautical miles to Newport when anything could happen. Several things are clear to me: it will be a close finish and any of the boats – and I include Team SCA – could still be in with a chance of winning this leg.”
Walker’s crew is protecting a seven-point lead over Dongfeng Race Team after the Chinese boat’s mast broke in the last leg in the Southern Ocean and the team was forced to quit the stage to replace it.
After reaching Newport, there will be a 10-day period for boat maintenance before the fleet sets out for the final transatlantic leg to Lisbon, Portugal.
The final two legs take in France (Lorient), Netherlands (The Hague) and, finally, Gothenburg, Sweden, in June.
Overall standings (after five legs, lowest points wins): Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 9 points, Dongfeng Race Team (China) 16, Team Brunel (Netherlands) 18, Team Alvimedica (U.S./Turkey) 19, MAPFRE (Spain) 20, Team SCA (Sweden) 29.