Leg start: June 07, 2015, 13:00 UTC / 14:00 local
Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante:
The first European leg takes you through the Bay of Biscay, which is always a sailing milestone. In the last edition, the boats went through one of their worst storms just before arriving in France so do not underestimate these 647 nautical miles.
In 2015 the fleet will go straight and not around the Azores as we did in 2011-12. A very fast leg then? Not for the first miles, as they will have to beat upwind. The Spanish coast can steer things a bit with some thermal effects on the northwesterly winds. Then the Bay of Biscay is always interesting.
It can be very windy if a good storm is coming from the North Atlantic; it can be very light if a low pressure just went across the Bay.
They said it would be short, and that it would be fast. They were right.
“Will yelled through the hatch, proclaiming that we have less than 1000 miles to go,” wrote Team Alvimedica Onboard Reporter Amory Ross on the eve of the Leg 8 departure from Lisbon.
“It’s a strange sensation – to be relatively close to a finish having just started – and it’s indicative of the different style of racing we’ll be experiencing during the next four days into Lorient.”
As it happened, it was less than four days. Three days, 13 hours, 11 minutes and 11 seconds, to be precise, from when Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing began this penultimate leg to when they finished it.
But it didn’t always look like it would be so quick. Indeed, as the boats rounded the inshore section of the leg start in front of Lisbon, they slowed and stuck in no wind and syrupy seas.
Well, for the first hour or so, at least. Then, the weather turned. The skies flicked from blue to grey, the waves climbed each other, and a thick buzz filled the air.
Within moments, the boats were chalking up knot after knot, flying along at full heel as they left behind the picturesque Portuguese port for another edition.
“I’m struggling to find the rhythm right now but I think it will come,” admitted Team Vestas Wind OBR Brian Carlin, on the first night.
“Already I know it’s time for the big push, and we seem to be holding our own currently. I’m expecting this entire trip to be run to the limit for all of us.” They spent the night tacking up the coast of Cascais – and then, a split.
“Overnight, there was a split in the fleet between teams that went inshore and offshore – now we’re within less than a mile of Dongfeng, MAPFRE and Alvimedica leapfrogging for the lead,” blogged Matt Knighton, OBR on Azzam.
“All night we were keeping pace with Brunel in the back, then earlier this morning they rolled over the top of us in a gust of wind.
“We got the distance back though as the wind built into the low teens for an hour, and we jumped to the jib and tacked before everyone else.”
But the conditions were shifty, and as Monday morning dawned, the heavy conditions forecast hadn’t quite shown up.
“At this particular moment it’s a very peaceful boat,” wrote Anna Lena-Elled, surveying her magenta surroundings, as the sun rose.
“Half of the crew lies in their bunks, dressed and ready for any kind of action on deck.”
The Spanish boat, MAPFRE, sat behind leaders Team SCA and second placed Team Vestas Wind – and it was a case of the Monday blues for Xabi Fernández’ team, who were frustrated by the ever-changing conditions.
Who sailed on Leg 8? Download crew lists
“It’s been a day when the rich got richer and the poor, poorer,” said OBR Francisco Vignale.
“The position report shows SCA miles ahead, getting the new wind before us. We had them in sight the entire day but they slowly disappeared after sunset.
“The wind conditions are shifty and everyone constantly expects a call on deck to tack or change a sail since the gusts are strong but short-lived.
Next up? The Portuguese/Spanish border. The fleet were about to enter Spanish waters – and that progress brings its own issues. Namely, Cape Finisterre.
Known as the ‘Costa do Morte’, which translates as the ‘Cape of Death’, that’s an infamously tricky area to sail in – full of 40 knot winds and massive seas.
And even on the toughest offshore sailors, those kind of conditions take their toll.
“My eyes sting like hell after the last hour of taking wind-blown spray straight to the face,” said Amory, on Alvimedica.
“Everything feels swollen, except my ego. My stomach – just alright for the time being – lurches and hangs as we fall off seven metre waves. It’s only a matter of time before I need to close my laptop for some deep breaths.”
Team Vestas Wind skipper Chris Nicholson had to deal with over half of his crew struggling with seasickness.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Trae (Tony Rae) be seasick,” says the Aussie, who has been around the world with the tough Kiwi before this race.
And what’s worse, after navigating the northwestern corner of Spain, the fleet would head straight into the Bay of Biscay.
“We’re now five tacks into what’s sure to be at least a dozen up the coast before stretching our legs out into the nastiness of the Bay,” said Azzam’s Matt.
“We’ve barely settled into a watch system, everyone is on deck more than they are in their bunks. The food bag is picked dry trying to fill a void of calories being expelled with each sail change every couple of hours.”
Back on the scoreboards, though, things still looked good for Team SCA, who had maintained their lead at the front of the pack.
“It’s very different to be the hunted compared to the hunter,” said Anna-Lena.
“We like it! We’re moving with 10 knots upwind – the boat is slamming the waves.”
She continued. “All our efforts and focus are at this stage directed towards the race and how to push the boat forward, no matter if we have 2 knots of wind or 20."
In second place, Team Vestas Wind. But maintaining the intensity after six months off the water wasn’t proving easy. Especially with a bit of bad luck, to boot.
“I’ve spent the majority of my day aft, bailing water from an unknown leak,” wrote Brian.
“It’s been heinous. I’ve banged my head so many times I think I’ve got brain damage. I’m wet from head to toe, when all along I was thinking this was going to be a short leg with no change of clothes.”
Despite the excess water everywhere on the boat, there was a severe lack of it on Dongfeng – their water-maker broke, once again. The only saving grace? That there were around 24 hours of the leg left, not 24 days.
As Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing left the Bay of Biscay behind, it began to sink in: if they could keep this distance between Dongfeng and Brunel, they would develop an unassailable lead over their nearest competitiors, in effect, winning the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15.
“Ian is surprisingly getting his first good night of sleep this morning,” wrote Matt Knighton.
“Unsurprisingly he was the lone AIS watcher in the nav station for most of the night. After 72 hours on the water, everyone already looks like they just raced a 26 day leg.”
And the Emiratis weren’t the only ones smelling success. “Holding my breath – that’s what I feel like I’ve been doing for the past 48 hours,” wrote Annie Lush, on Team SCA.
“It’s Leg 8, Day 4 and we’re in the lead! Seasickness has taken its prisoners onboard but the end is in sight and the fact that we’re winning makes it all the more bearable.”
And as France came into sight, the magenta boat still held the lead – cue tons of spectator boats, well-wishers and friends and family on the dock. Oh, and the odd tear, too.
For second-placed Vestas, stepping onto shore marked a landmark in what has been an incredible journey back from the brink.
“I never imagined that we could get second,” admitted skipper Chris Nicholson. “It’s a dream.”
But the biggest welcome was reserved for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, whose sailors climbed onto the dock wearing the euphoric smiles of a team which has just made history.
“It’s not sunk in yet – it’s funny, we crossed the finishing line and we all went quiet!” said an emotional Ian on the dock.
“I can’t thank the team enough. We’ve never broken anything on our boat. We made a plan a year and a half ago, and we just carried it out. I bet they’re going nuts in Abu Dhabi, I can’t wait to speak to everyone there.
“The race isn’t finished, we have another leg to race and we want to do the best we can. We’ll keep our heads switched on, and try and do as best as we can on the last leg.
“The first feeling you have when you win something like this is vindication for everything you’ve done. The decisions, the sacrifices, being away from your family for long periods of time, it’s all worth it.”
Best images of Leg 8 - Lisbon to Lorient
The Inside Track Leg 8
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|In order of finish:||Finish date||Finish time||Elapsed time||Points|
|Team SCA||11/06/15||02:11:11 UTC||3d 13h 11min 11s||1|
|Team Vestas Wind||11/06/15||02:59:38 UTC||3d 13h 59min 38s||2|
|Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing||11/06/15||03:05:17 UTC||3d 14h 05min 17s||3|
|MAPFRE||11/06/15||03:09:51 UTC||3d 14h 09min 51s||4|
|Team Brunel||11/06/15||03:18:17 UTC||3d 14h 18min 17s||5|
|Team Alvimedica||11/06/15||03:22:11 UTC||3d 14h 22min 11s||6|
|Dongfeng Race Team||11/06/15||03:37:46 UTC||3d 14h 37min 46s||7|
|In order of finish:||Sailed
|Max 1hr avg
|Team Vestas Wind||844,02||248,21||13,92|
|Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing||857,91||245,22||13,91|
|Dongfeng Race Team||856,35||250,32||14,86|