And in the winner-take-all sprint from Gothenburg to The Hague, it was Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Race Team taking the early advantage over their rivals for the overall title, Team Brunel and MAPFRE.
While Dongfeng found a clean lane to windward for the race start, Xabi Fernández’s MAPFRE and Bouwe Bekking’s Leg 10 winners Brunel were entangled at the leeward end of the line. In fact, MAPFRE was boxed out at the line and needed to circle around before starting behind the fleet.
As the boats lined up for the early reaching stage of Leg 11, Caudrelier was in pole position, vying with team AkzoNobel for the early lead, and well ahead of his competition for overall race victory, Brunel and MAPFRE.
“We’re excited to get going on this leg. It looks interesting and this is the kind of leg I really like,” Caudrelier had said before the start. “It’s reminds me of when I started to race, this kind of coastal racing. We’re ready for the fight and we know it’s going to be a big fight for sure.”
Bekking’s Team Brunel is the form team, having won three of the last four legs. They will need all of that ‘flow’ as the skipper calls it, to grab the title in The Hague.
“We believe we can win. I believe we can win,” Bekking said on the dock, pre-start. “It’s a fantastic way to finish this race. It’s my eighth time and we think we can we do it. As a team we’re still growing and we’re confident we can beat the two red boats.”
For MAPFRE, the intensity of the final leg is something skipper Xabi Fernández welcomes.
“We’ve prepared all we can and we have plenty of confidence,” Fernández said. “We’re happy to have a little bit of everything in the forecast for this leg. There won’t be much of a watch system for this one – all hands on deck!”
There’s another battle at the opposite end of the leaderboard where David Witt’s Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag leads Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic by just one point. Caffari has made it clear she and her crew, among them Ireland's own Annalise Murphy, would love to overhaul the Scallywags on the final leg of the race.
“We need to beat them with a boat or more in between us,” Caffari said. “We do not want to finish at the bottom of the leaderboard… So we have to sail our boat confidently and at the level we know and make sure we’re in amongst the rest of the fleet.”
But early on it was Scallywag starting the upwind beat to Norway ahead of Turn the Tide on Plastic. And as the fleet settled into what will be a 100-mile upwind push to Norway, Gothenburg In-Port Race winners Vestas 11th Hour Racing topped the leaderboard marginally ahead of Dongfeng Race Team, who have since reclaimed pole by a hair. Significantly, Team Brunel and MAPFRE are trailing the fleet.
The race course for Leg 11 takes the boats west out of the islets dotting the entrance to Gothenburg before turning north to head to a turning mark just off the coast of Norway. Then, it’s a dive south to round a mark near the Danish city of Aarhus, followed by a return north around the top of Denmark before racing south to The Hague.
Numerous tactical options are in play throughout the leg, with the weather forecast promising strong winds early, and lighter conditions near the finish on Sunday.
“This leg is going to be about speed, managing the transitions, having the right sails, making the right choices,” Caudrelier said. “It’s a complete test. We will have all different kinds of windspeed and wind angles so it’s going to be the best team who has learned the most and can take the good decisions under pressure who will win.”
ETA in Aarhus is for tomorrow afternoon (Friday 22 June), while the finish in The Hague is expected on Sunday afternoon 24 June.
Factoring in the turning marks off Norway and Aarhus, the leg length could approach 1,000 nautical miles. (Note that the turning mark off Norway is currently a mark of the course to be rounded before and after the Aarhus turning mark.)
Leg 11 Position Report, Thursday 21 June (Day 1) at 3pm Irish time/2pm UTC:
- Dongfeng Race Team – DTF 941.5 nautical miles
- Vestas 11th Hour Racing +0.1 nautical miles
- Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag +0.2
- Turn the Tide on Plastic +0.3
- Team AkzoNobel +0.5
- Team Brunel +0.7
- MAPFRE +1.0