Published: Monday, 08 June 2015

Overall Volvo Ocean Race leaders, Ian Walker (GBR) and his seven Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crewmates, left Lisbon for Leg 8 to Lorient, France, on Sunday with their eyes glued on the weather forecast - and the progress of their two closest rivals.

Volvo Ocean Race Moves Towards Leg 8 2

The penultimate 647-nautical mile (nm) stage is the shortest of the nine-month race by some way, but no less challenging for that.

“There are light winds chasing up the Portuguese coast, but by the time we get to Cape Finisterre, it should be a dead beat to Lorient (France), and probably quite windy, over 30 knots,” says Ian Walker, Volvo Ocean Race leader. “It’ll be interesting as we haven’t had a lot of upwind in this race. We don’t really know what the pecking order is in these conditions, so it could be a very different leg from the others.”

The fleet, restored to seven boats again after the return of Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) in Lisbon, following the rebuild from the collision with a reef in Leg 2, should take three to four days to reach Lorient on the Brittany coast.

Volvo Ocean Race Moves Towards Leg 8 6

Spanish boat MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP) made the early pace on Sunday at the start of Leg 8, only to be relegated to second place by Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) as the fleet left the final mark behind.

MAFRE won their second Volvo Ocean Race in-port race running on Saturday, but only with two metres to spare against Walkers team. 

Their cause is boosted by a desire to underline their credentials as one of the classiest crews in the fleet, after two separate brushes with the independent, international jury following rule breaches, which have cost them a total of three points.

Conditions in the Tagus River proved to be extremely challenging as the fleet attempted to deal with the tough, near windless conditions, coupled with a very strong tide.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were towards the back of the pack, not quite the start that Walker and his crew would have wanted.

The race is intriguingly poised with the Emirati boat, on paper, able to clinch overall victory if results go their way when the boats arrive after around four days of sailing.

However, he brushed aside all premature talk of that prospect at the pre-leg press conference on Friday.

Volvo Ocean Race Moves Towards Leg 8

 “I prefer not to even look at the scoreboard – these guys (his rival skippers) know they still have plenty of chance to beat us in this race,” says Walker.

It is not just Team Brunel and Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA), who will want to upset Walker’s bid to claim the trophy.

Similarly, Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) are improving leg on leg, and have garnered two podium places in the last 10 days: third in Leg 7 and the same position in the in-port race.

Team Vestas Wind are delighted to be back in the mix again, after climbing their own Everest to repair their shattered boat in time to re-join the fleet for the final two legs.

Volvo Ocean Race Moves Towards Leg 8 4

Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) know that the last two, sprint, coastal legs offer them their best chance of upsetting the established order of dominance.

They too have improved leg after leg, but that progress has yet to be rewarded on the scoreboard. 

 Volvo Ocean Race Moves Towards Leg 8 11

However, Team SCA enjoyed the presence of the Crown Princess of Sweden, as the heiress of the throne took to the helm in Lisbon during a practice ahead of Sunday’s eighth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Princess's family is already well acquainted with offshore sailing's toughest challenge. Her younger brother, Prince Carl Philip, visited the same crew at the start of the nine-month race back in October.

The fleet is expected to reach Lorient early on Thursday (June 11). They will have a short maintenance period there before setting off for the final leg to Gothenburg, via a pit stop in The Hague, on Tuesday, June 16.

Volvo Ocean Race Moves Towards Leg 8 1

The event finishes with an in-port race in Gothenburg on June 27. In all, the boats will have covered 38,739nm and visited 11 ports and every continent.

Latest standings (low points wins, In-Port Race Series splits ties): 

1) Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 16 points,

2) Team Brunel (Netherlands) 22,

3) Dongfeng Race Team (China) 22,

4) Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) 27,

5) MAPFRE (Spain) 27,

6) Team SCA (Sweden) 43,

7) Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 52.