Twenty-four hours before, with just 300 miles to go, MAPFRE was in fifth place.
But as Tuesday morning dawned, and with the fleet ghosting towards the finish line in extremely light and shifty winds, Xabi Fernández’s team was among the leading quartet, battling in slow motion with Team Brunel, Dongfeng Race Team and Vestas 11th Hour Racing.
And even when the leaders were just 500 metres from the finish line, MAPFRE was still trailing Team Brunel as the pair emerged from the fog within sight of the spectators at the Fort Adams Race Village.
On approach to the final turning mark, MAPFRE picked up a zephyr of wind to sneak past Brunel and claim what just moments earlier would have been seen as a very improbable leg win.
“This is unbelievable,” skipper Xabi Fernández admitted moments after crossing the finish line. “I can’t be happier. We were always hoping to come back a little bit but to be honest we were not expecting to win this leg, so we’re super happy.
“Our hopes were always that there would be a compression so we could catch someone… Last night has been crazy how much everything has closed up and everyone on board did an amazing job.”
Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel, who had been leading for most of the past week after the equator crossing, took a well-deserved second-place finish.
Dongfeng Race Team, who had been ahead of the fleet on the approach to the east coast overnight Monday night, suffered the cruellest fate over the final miles.
Every break seemed to go against Charles Caudrelier’s team and after being in position to claim the leg win, they had to settle for fourth place, with Vestas 11th Hour Racing storming past Caudrelier’s crew in the final mile of the leg.
“This leg has had its ups and downs,” said Charlie Enright, the skipper of Vesta 11th Hour Racing. “We didn’t start great but we feel like we sailed pretty well for the middle two-thirds of the leg … Then with some positive input from some local knowledge, we end up back on the podium which is great.”
Newport is a homecoming for Enright and Nick Dana on Vestas 11th Hour Racing as well as Mark Towill, who did his college sailing nearby.
“It’s awesome here,” Enright said. “It’s 0600 local time here and the amount of boats out is absurd. The amount of effort put in by Sail Newport and the stopover here is amazing.”
The final hours were painful for the exhausted sailors but extraordinary to watch. With the wind nearly shutting down overnight on the approach to Newport, the fleet found itself pushed around by the tide and currents near shore, at times even drifting backwards, away from the finish line.
This meant there was a high degree of uncertainty. Positions were never secure until the finish line was breached by MAPFRE. No one suffered more in the final miles than Dongfeng’s Caudrelier.
“We’re very disappointed,” he said. “We were dreaming about a victory here … But it makes me angry and I will be better on the next one. I am already focussed on the future and I promise Dongfeng will do a fantastic job on the next one.”
The shocking win by MAPFRE has a huge impact on the overall race leaderboard where MAPFRE has regained the lead from Dongfeng, and now sits three points clear at the head of the table. Brunel retains the third podium position.
The light winds near the finish resulted in a massive compression in the fleet, all the way back to Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, who were trailing the leaders by over 130 miles just one day ago.
But as MAPFRE crossed the finish line on Tuesday morning, David Witt’s team was less than 20 miles behind, and as of 1pm Irish time/12pm UTC has just eight miles to cover.
Meanwhile, Turn the Tide on Plastic — with Annalise Murphy representing Ireland on deck — were barely ahead of Team AkzoNobel just over a nautical mile from the finish line.