Image © James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race
Team AkzoNobel’s sailors have returned to action in an upbeat mood after a welcome break with their friends and family over the last week.
The sailing team reconvened in Itajaí, Brazil yesterday and after a quick catch up and debrief with the team’s technical shore crew, were soon back out on the water for a successful shakedown test sail ahead of Friday’s in port race and the start of Leg 8 to Newport, USA on Sunday.
While the sailors were away re-charging their batteries the five-strong technical team had worked flat out to give the team AkzoNobel yacht a full overhaul after two and a half weeks of fast and furious racing on Leg 7.
Team AkzoNobel has been the best performing crew in the seven-boat fleet over the last four legs, having clocked up consecutive podium results in the previous three open ocean stages.
This impressive performance puts the team in fourth place overall with seven legs sailed – three points adrift of Team Brunel (NED) in third, 12 points behind second-placed Mapfre (ESP), and a further point back from overall leaders Dongfeng Race Team (CHN).
Team AkzoNobel Boat captain Nicolai Sehested (DEN) believes the team has the potential for more top three scores over the final four legs of the race.
Moreover, with one of those – the transatlantic crossing on Leg 9 – counting for double points, the Dane says there is plenty of scope to reel in Brunel and the top two red boats before the finish in The Hague at the end of June.
“We are in a good position with a great boat and a solid crew that is pretty happy in the way it is working together,” Sehested said. “We have grown stronger throughout the race and we are still growing.
“It’s all about the mental strength and focus now from here on in for the rest of the race.
Sehested said the sailing team had come back stronger after its week-long break from the race.
“We were pretty tired when we arrived here after Leg 7, but probably more mentally fatigued than physically. Everyone needed a break and so we all went our separate ways for a week to regroup, recover and just clear our minds for a bit.
“It’s vital to give people the chance to do that at this stage as this is a key turning point in the race.
“It’s been a long, long race already and often this point in the schedule can be make or break for a team. Either the wheels can come off the bus, or you can push on and keep strong – the choice is yours.”
With the sailors all now back in Itajaí revived and refreshed after their time away, attention has turned to the eighth leg of the race – a 10,500-kilometer northerly route across the equator and up the eastern seaboard of the United States to Newport, Rhode Island.
According to Sehested, although the route looks easier in comparison to Leg 7 which took the teams deep into the perilous and unforgiving Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, Leg 8 has plenty of challenges and should not be taken lightly.
“It could be tricky,” he said. “We have another Doldrums to negotiate along the way and we are expecting to be making a lot of sail changes to deal with the changeable conditions you encounter on the way north from here to Newport.
“A regime of constant sail changes can be really hard on a crew – especially one that is already tired from six months of racing.”
Nevertheless Sehested is confident the team AkzoNobel sailors are more than up for the challenges that Leg 8 has in store and aim to keep on doing what they have been doing to get them to this stage in the race.
“I think this will be a tough leg for a lot of teams,” he said. “We know we need to come out with a lot of energy, so that we can keep on pushing, keep on focusing on doing the right things, and keep on chipping away – even when it gets tough.
“If we can maintain that level of focus and intensity then we should be in good position coming into Newport.”
Asked about possible tactics and strategy for Leg 8 Sehested said the overall plan would be to stay with the fleet and protect the boat, especially in the expected bumpy and unpleasant sea state generated by the warm waters of Gulf Stream as it winds its way northwards.
“We shouldn’t be going all out to try to win the leg outright,” he said. “But rather to keep the boat in one piece and to be in a position to be in the mix over the last few days when we get out of the Gulf Stream.
“The big picture strategy for Leg 8 will likely be to stay with the fleet, because we are confident in our boat speed if we need to sprint when we get nearer to the finish.
Sehested is hopeful the crew has another podium place in its repertoire on Leg 8.
“That would set us up nicely for the next leg – the double points transatlantic leg back to Europe,” he said. “The goal is consistency from here on in to the finish of the race, so it’s not about winning every leg but more about not wasting any points un-necessarily – beginning now with Leg 8.”