Leg 7, Day 16: The door shuts on MAPFRE and Turn the Tide on Plastic

As had looked inevitable, the weather Gods have worked in Dongfeng Race Team’s favour with the High pressure enveloping MAPFRE and Turn the Tide on Plastic at the back of the fleet.

In the last six hours those two boats have incurred huge losses – MAPFRE (-112); Turn the Tide on Plastic (-88) – while at the front Team Brunel and Dongfeng have been romping towards the finish line at more than 20 knots.

Dongfeng Race Team is now on the verge of pulling off a finish to this epic double-points-scoring leg from Auckland that could change its overall prospects in this race dramatically.

Even if it finishes second and MAPFRE manages to overhaul Turn the Tide on Plastic (currently 55 miles ahead) and finish fourth, the Chinese-sponsored team will have caught up to within one point of MAPFRE with four legs still to come. Dongfeng would have 46 points to MAPFRE’s 47 - that is the worst case, as the boats stand.

Other possibilities look even better. If Dongfeng finishes second and MAPFRE is fifth, then Dongfeng takes a one-point lead in the overalls (46-45). If Dongfeng wins the leg and gets the bonus point and MAPFRE finishes fourth, then Dongfeng would have a two-point cushion (49-47). The best result would be Dongfeng winning and Turn the Tide on Plastic – which has rig damage – beating her into fifth place. In that scenario, Dongfeng would emerge from this leg with a four-point advantage (49-45).

It’s all speculation. In sailing, as we know, anything can happen…but all the crews have been looking at these numbers when they are off-watch, including Charles Caudrelier, the skipper of Dongfeng. But the Frenchman is trying to make sure he and his team don’t trip up when they are in sight of a great finish, with only 540 miles still to sail to Itajai.

“We are fighting for the first place with Team Brunel, said Caudrelier. “But we must not forget that the boat is tired, the people are tired and the biggest mistake we could make is to push too much to try to win this leg, especially in the strong winds.

“So we have to find the good balance and try to come back but sail safe for the boat and for the people,” he added. “There is a good gap – at the moment in the ranking we are taking the lead of the Volvo if we finish only second - but first we have to finish, of course.”

Today’s latest position report shows that Team Brunel and Dongfeng are nine miles apart and hammering along in over 20 knots of southeasterly breeze with Dongfeng clocked at 23 knots. This is what Caudrelier was talking about – strong winds working on a tired boat and crew, so it is all about getting through these last miles in one piece.