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Abu Dhabi Lands First in Lisbon

A tight North Atlantic crossing ended Leg 7 with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing first to the finish in Lisbon, Portugal, restructuring the leaderboard so as to make the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 anyone's game.

Credit: PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race
After a damaged hull forced Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to pull out of Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 early, the team seemed to have given up hope of taking to the winners' podium in the round-the-world race. All that changed, though, when the team sprinted out of Miami earlier this month on the North Atlantic crossing to Lisbon, Portugal.

The treacherous trek saw a shift in leadership as storm winds guided the boats in different directions. It could have been anyone's race, as the navigators steered the boats every which way, none avoiding the windy storms that pushed back against the sailors.

In the end, with teams sailing at speeds of about 20 knots, “home field” advantage made the difference, as a neck-and-neck final sprint with Groupama was determined by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's intimate knowledge of the waters around Lisbon, where they spent eight weeks last summer in preparation for the race.

“We had everything! The weather was in favor of that,” said a disappointed Groupama sailing team skipper Franck Cammas once in port.

Cammas, whose team now rests atop the overall race's leaderboard, however, gave credit where it was due. “Well done to Abu Dhabi who did a very beautiful leg. They are not used to that and that's really great for them. They deserve it, they were on it from the start.”

Credit: PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race
Abu Dhabi, for their part, were enjoying the win after a series of rough starts.

“We had such high hopes coming into this race but we've been struggling for pace all the way,” said Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker. “We have such skilled people on the shore team and the sailing team but we weren't getting results leg in leg out. It's brutal but now we've won a leg it's all worthwhile.”

And while it's unlikely Abu Dhabi will take home the gold once the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 ends in Galway, Ireland next month, the points' tallies are so close that the race is still anyone's game.

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