Volvo Ocean Race: Team Brunel claim challenging seventh leg victory

Team Brunel have claimed a narrow victory over DongFeng Race Team in the seventh, and most challenging, leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

In what has been described as one the hardest stages in the history of the round-the-world-race, the teams sailed through towering seas, freezing temperatures, and 30-50 knot gale force winds.

The 7,600 nautical mile race from New Zealand to Brazil, took the teams deep into the Southern Ocean, through the wild seas of Cape Horn, and down in the ‘Furious Fifties’ – south of 50 degrees latitude.

Team Brunel crew member and kiwi sailor, Peter Burling, described the leg as “incredibly grinding,” but said he was very pleased with the win.

Leg seven was described as one of the toughest legs in history. Photo / Volvo Ocean Race

“I think how tired we are as a crew now shows us how tough this leg was, and it’s been incredibly grinding on everyone,” said Burling.

“Everyone kept fighting, kept pushing on, and to eventually manage to hold off DongFeng for the win is incredibly pleasing.”

“It’s great to finally take a win as a team … to be able to put it all together this time and come away with a win in the leg with the most points on offer in the whole race is pretty pleasing for us as a group.”

Brunel’s victory, however, was met with bittersweet emotion as the crew reflected on the devastating challenges some of the other boats faced.

Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag have fought an emotional battle over the last seven days since one of their crew members, John Fisher, was tragically swept overboard in the Southern Ocean and “presumed lost at sea”.

Meanwhile, MAPFRE and Vestas 11th Hour had to suspend racing after both enduring severe damage to their masts.

Brunel were first to pass Cape Horn. Photo / Volvo Ocean Race

“There were some pretty mixed emotions half way through with everything going on behind us,” said Burling, “with what happened to ‘Fish’ [Fisher] and vessels losing their mast it was just chaos going on.”

“It’s obviously a really sad time for the race … and a lot of mixed emotions with that.”

Team Brunel’s narrow victory came with a big reward as the team collected all 16 points available for the double-point scoring leg, including bonus points for being the first team to cross Cape Horn.

Brunel have now jumped ahead to third place, just three points behind MAPFRE, and crew member Bouwe Bekking said the much-needed win now meant they were back in the game.

“We always wanted to aim for the maximum points this leg, as it means we would most likely be top three,” Bekking said.

“It’s a fantastic result for us. We have managed to come back into MAPFRE after plenty of frustration on the previous legs.

“From now on it will be a matter of just chipping away. We’ve seen stranger things happen in the past in this race so I think we’re now in great shape to go for the finish in The Hague.”

Scallywag will remain in Chile as they debrief and decide on future plans while Vestas 11th Hour Racing remain in the Falkland Islands, assessing logistical options to re-join the race.

Next to finish Leg 7 will likely be team AkzoNobel who are approximately 36 hours behind the leaders, in what appears to be a safe position for a podium finish.

Leg 7 – Finishing positions:
1. Team Brunel — Finish time — 14:45:18 UTC in 16d 13h 45min 18sec — 16 points
2. Dongfeng Race Team — Finish time — 15:00:08 UTC in 16d 14h 00min 08sec — 12 points

Story by Cheree Kinnear a sports reporter for NZME

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