Leg 8, Day 14: Dongfeng makes another move to the west; Brunel covers

It’s a fascinating battle of wits at the front of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet between Bouwe Bekking’s crew on Team Brunel and Charles Caudrelier and his crew on Dongfeng.

In the last 24 hours Caudrelier and navigator Pascal Bidegorry took the decision, for the second time in this leg, to gybe away to the west, looking to put pressure on Brunel and to ensure Dongfeng stays in the strongest winds further from the centre of the High.

As Dongfeng headed towards the American coast, Brunel copied the move, covering their Chinese rivals. Now – midway through their 14th day at sea, the two leading boats are the nine miles apart on the western flank of the fleet and 50 miles further west than third-placed Vestas 11th Hour Racing.

It will be interesting to see whether the boats to weather of Brunel and Dongfeng end up being slowed by being closer to the centre of the High or not as this leg reaches its climax with under 650 nautical miles to sail to Newport.

The compression in the fleet, meanwhile, has continued and this will be playing on the nerves of Caudrelier and Bidegorry – as it will on Bekking and his navigator Andrew Cape. Having climbed back up to fifth place, MAPFRE is now only 37 miles behind Brunel, the closest the Spanish boat has been for days.

On Dongfeng the mood is upbeat and the crew is continuing to enjoy some superb sailing conditions. Speaking while taking his turn on the wheel, bowman Jack Bouttell quipped: “It’s always nice to be the hunter, especially on a day like today – a splendid day for pleasure craft, it really is!”

Daryl Wislang summarised the endgame prior to the gybe. “With less than 1,000 miles to run into Newport, it’s going to be a pretty interesting and busy few days,” he said. “We have a gybe coming up shortly in the High Pressure system and we are battling it out with Brunel now and just closing in on them. We’ve got two days (to get past them) and we’ve closed in on them pretty quickly.”

Having chased Brunel all the way to the finish of the last leg and missed out by minutes at the death, Wislang is hoping they can find a way through in the closing stages this time round. “In the last leg, we didn’t gybe – we didn’t have quite enough runway – so that is all we’re focusing on,” he said.

For Brunel a win into Newport would make two leg wins in a row, with all the associated bonus points, and would confirm their rise up the leaderboard as a late threat to the overall podium. For Dongfeng winning in Newport would be a repeat of their success in this leg in the last race, would cement their place at the head of the fleet and would bring Caudrelier and his crew their first leg win of this race.

Position report at 08h59UTC:
1 - Team Brunel 609nm from Newport
2 - Dongfeng Race Team 8.7nm from the leader
3 - Vestas 11th Hour 15.5nm
4 - Turn The Tide of Plastic 30nm
5 - MAPFRE 37.2nm
6 - AkzoNobel 55.9nm
7 - Scallywag 149.9nm