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‘Mirror image’ finish turns tide, tightens race

After several repair-ridden, physically demanding legs of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011/2012, the crews have now survived a mentally challenging Leg 6 that came down to the wire, turning the race tide and tightening the leaderboard. With three offshore legs and four in-port races to go, for four of the six boats, it’s anyone’s race.

Puma Ocean Racing powered by BERG gives thumbs up on way to victory in Leg 6. Credit: Marco Oquendo/Volvo Ocean Race.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG is back in contention after back-to-back leg wins and another 30 points gained in Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011/2012 from Itajaí, Brazil, to Miami, Florida. Behind them it was a ‘mirror image’ finish as Leg 5 second and fourth place finishers swapped spots. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand arrived in Miami just an hour after PUMA for second, while Team Telefónica took fourth, missing the podium for the first time in an offshore leg. Groupama grabbed the final podium spot for the second time in as many legs.

After the long and arduous Leg 5 from Auckland to Itajaí, a 6,705-nautical-mile odyssey that forced two boats to retire and saw five of the six boats in need of repairs at some point, the 3,590-nautical-mile Leg 6 was a welcome relief for the tired sailors. But it proved a mental challenge for the crews who had to make several nerve-racking tactical decisions. One early on was whether to hug the coast of Brazil or venture well offshore to find the best breeze. Later it would be critical to pick the best time to break north out of the strong Southern Ocean westerly winds and into the Doldrums, a low-pressure area around the Equator where the prevailing winds are calm.

Team Telefónica and Groupama chose to swing westward along the coast, while Camper and Abu Dhabi stayed east and PUMA pounded its way right up the middle. It didn’t matter in the end as calm weather conditions left the boats inching along and the fleet tightened, making every move particularly important as the boats waged a nip-and-tuck battle for wind and current. Coming out of the Doldrums, three boats were fighting for the advantage of being the first to hit the Atlantic trade winds north of Brazil and open up a gap for the final stretch east of the Caribbean islands before breaking west through the Bahamas on the way to Miami.

PUMA leads the way into Miami harbor. Credit: IAN ROMAN/ Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 6 was far from over in the final days, which made for an exciting finish. PUMA held on to its razor-thin lead, coming in only an hour ahead of CAMPER. Close behind in third, Telefónica was surprised by Groupama's late surge as the French team leapfrogged from fifth to third over the course of a few days and ultimately denied Telefónica a place on the winner’s podium for the first time in an offshore leg.

"On a physical level it was the easiest leg we've had, despite the heat, but it was also the most stressful since the start of the race in Alicante," said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. "The overall standing has bunched together and four boats are still in with a chance of outright victory in Galway: everything is still open and the battle will continue!"

With three offshore legs and four in-port races to go, the top four boats are now only separated by 17 points. PUMA’s back-to-back wins have now put them right back in contention. As of now, it’s anyone’s race.

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