Hammer down to The Hague

Text by Jon Bramley
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Hammer down to The Hague Text by Jon Bramley
 
Fair winds, flat seas and a sunny sky ahead - it doesn't get much better than this.

As the fleet set off for Gothenburg, just over 1,000 nautical miles away from Lorient, via The Hague, in perfect sailing conditions today, Team Brunel led the chase to reach the Dutch pit stop first.

There was drama from the very first seconds with both Leg 8 winners, Team SCA, and Team Alvimedica, finding themselves course side at the start line and being forced back to cross for a second time.

Brunel's Bouwe Bekking, in contrast, stormed away to the perfect start and took the fleet out of a packed Lorient with Abu Dhabi Chasing them hard, in 12-14 knots of wind on a flat sea state.

His crew, like three others, have podium positions to sail for in this final leg, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing already having the overall title sewn up with an unassailable eight-point lead.

The Dutch boat is currently in second place on 27 points after eight legs, two clear of Dongfeng Race Team, and four ahead of MAPFRE.

All have the chance of finishing in second place if the last leg results go their way, and even fifth-placed Team Alvimedica could sneak in to grab the runners-up spot if they end up as leg winners and their rivals finish down the field.

But both Team SCA and Team Vestas Wind, first and second from Lisbon into Lorient last week, will be determined to put a spoke in their rivals' wheels and repeat the previous stage’s somewhat surprising finish.

As Azzam skipper Ian Walker put it, meanwhile, his tactics on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for the leg, which is full of exclusion zones in a busy shipping route skirted by rocks, are pretty simple.

“Don’t hit any rocks, and avoid breaking any rules," he said, with a smile.

Meanwhile, Bouwe would like nothing better than reach his home country, probably on Friday, first - a belated birthday present as he turns 52 years old tomorrow.

“We just have to beat them, then it’s easy,” he said in an interview on dockside before the action.

"We have no strategy as such but, of course, we’re going to keep an eye on the guys. It will be massive to go home but we know it’s just a stop and it’s all about the finish in Gothenburg.”

Another birthday boy, Iker Martínez, on board MAPFRE, who turns 38 today, thinks that the leg offers fairly unique challenges: “There are lots of rocks involved, and our first priority is not to hit the rocks.

“There’s going to be lot of current, but it’s difficult to know where the key of the leg is going to be.

"We could arrive in Scheveningen and then the whole thing starts again. The best thing is to be in front in any case.”

And Charlie Enright of Team Alvimedica agreed, adding: “We are in a really complicated situation – but at least we know it’s complicated.”

The boats will be precisely timed as they pass the ‘finish’ line in Scheveningen, near The Hague, on Friday.

From 1200 local time onwards the following day, they will depart for Gothenburg, spaced with whatever advantage or deficit they took into the pit stop on their rivals.

They are expected to arrive in Gothenburg on Monday June 22, or, possibly Tuesday.

The nine-month, 38,739nm, marathon will finally come to a halt in the famous maritime Swedish city on Saturday, June 27, with the Inmarsat In-Port Race Gothenburg.