Volvo Ocean Race: First leg goes to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team
ALICANTE - Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has claimed the 6,487-nautical mile opening leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Alicante to Cape Town after 25 days and three hours at sea.
They had been pursued by Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team who closed to within three miles but could not close the gap in the South Atlantic chase into Cape Town on Wednesday.
Victory for the Emirate boat was a personal triumph for its British skipper Ian Walker who was also in charge of the Abu Dhabi crew in 2011-12 when they were forced to return to shore on the first night of sailing because of a broken mast.
This time, Walker and his team sailed a perfect leg through the Mediterranean and Atlantic but the skipper has gone without sleep over the past two days to ensure victory. He has either been helming the boat or poring over the boat's satellite tracker data in the cabin.
The boat's onboard reporter, Matt Knighton, has painted a vivid picture of Walker and his anxieties as Dongfeng nipped at their heels.
"Wearing his stress and nervousness onboard, Ian hasn't been able to sleep. His eyes are bloodshot, he's jumped for each perceived decrease in boat speed and his familiar humour is subdued under a quieter exterior," he wrote in a daily log for Race control.
"It's quite emotional actually," Walker told Race HQ, minutes after crossing the line.
"I didn't think I would be - but that last couple of hours, they threw everything at us," he smiled, "We've had people ride on our heels for the last 10 days or so. I must congratulate Dongfeng, an absolutely fantastic performance."
Second place for Dongfeng is a surprise. The eight-man crew includes two Chinese sailors, Jin Hao Chen and Jiru Yang, who have never sailed around the world before.
However, their French skipper Charles Caudrelier has sailed a very canny tactical race despite suffering a broken rudder two and half weeks ago and a shattered wheel - the boat has two - last week.
Caudrelier added to Walker's anxieties by attempting several turning manoeuvres under the cover of darkness, all of which were spotted and covered by the Abu Dhabi boat.
The winners crossed the Cape Town finishing line at 1510 GMT, followed just 12 minutes later by Dongfeng.
The rest of the seven-strong fleet, led by Team Brunel (Netherlands), are expected to finish over the next three days with the all-female crew of Team SCA currently bringing up the rear.
The boats will have two weeks for maintenance in Cape Town before setting out to Abu Dhabi for the second leg on November 19.
The biennial event. generally reckoned to be offshore racing's toughest crewed challenge, will visit 11 ports and cover 38,749 nautical miles. It concludes in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27, 2015.