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VOR: Fleet back to full strength for Leg 7 to Brazil through the punishing Southern Ocean

AUCKLAND –The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is back to full strength and ready to set off on one of the most classic legs in offshore racing. The seven VOR 65s will leave Auckland on Sunday afternoon (Saturday in the United States) and head back into the inhospitable Southern Ocean on the 7,600-nautical mile Leg 7 that will carry them around Cape Horn to Itajai, Brazil.

The sailors know all too well what to expect in the “Furious Fifties.”

“It’s going to be bloody cold,” said Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking (NED), who is sailing around the world for the eighth time. “It’s probably the best sailing you can get. We know the boats so well at this point in the race, we will be pushing 100 percent. And going around Cape Horn is a big psychological boost as you know the Southern Ocean is behind you, every mile you go north it gets warmer. So it’s a funny thing, there will be moments when you hate it, but you know better times are ahead. And when you arrive in Brazil, you forget the bad parts and the good parts stay with you.”

Leg 7 could be decisive in the standings because it offers double points, with an additional bonus point awarded to the first boat to pass Cape Horn.

MAPFRE is the overall leader with 37 points after six legs, but after a fourth place finish and despite their late charge to get on the podium on the leg into Auckland, the team’s position at the top doesn’t appear as secure as it was early on. Dongfeng Race Team is close behind with 34 points while team AkzoNobel has 27 and Team Brunel 26.

“Of course I feel like they are coming closer and faster, but we can only do one thing – push the boat, sail well and try to win this leg,” said MAPFRE skipper Xabi Fernández (ESP), who has rounded Cape Horn six times.

“If we can win this leg, it’s a big step forward. There is nothing to change, we just need to sail a little bit better than the others and push a little bit harder.”

Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag is one of the teams putting pressure on the leaders. The team is coming off one-two finishes on the last two legs, vaulting up the leaderboard to third place.

“We’re going to win the leg or drop the rig. That’s the mentality,” skipper David Witt (AUS) said. “This is a big chance for Scallywag to stay up there and do something or drop back toward the back of the pack… We don’t care what goes wrong or what breaks … We’re just going to send it.”

Another team making a push up the leaderboard is team AkzoNobel. Skipper Simeon Tienpont (NED) led his team to victory on the race into Auckland, and now he’s determined to continue the charge.

“You always have to look at the race as a whole and there’s more than 50 percent to go in terms of points. It’s been a big improvement and a big learning curve. We’re working unbelievably hard and we want to keep the momentum going. The leg win into Auckland proved we’re on the right track and gives some confidence.”

The Ice Exclusion Zone for Leg 7 is set far south, at points diving as deep as the 59-

degree south latitude line. In theory this will shorten the distance the boats need to sail, and speed up the leg. But it comes at a cost – more bitter cold and towering seas, in wind and waves that circle the planet unimpeded but land mass. The challenge isn’t lost on the sailors.

“You can’t ignore where you’re going and the responsibility that lies with the skipper,” said Dee Caffari (GBR), the skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic. “But we have already had Leg 3, from Cape Town to Melbourne. Everybody has had a taste of how wet, cold and windy it can be. We’re not going down into the unknown, which gives you a lot more confidence.”

Re-joining the fleet is Vestas 11th Hour Racing, which has been repaired after a fatal collision with a fishing boat on the approach to Hong Kong at end of Leg 4. Vestas withdrew from Leg 4 and missed the next two legs while its boat was shipped to Auckland for repairs.

Skipper Charlie Enright (USA) rejoins the Vestas crew after missing Leg 4 to tend to a family medical emergency.

“The team has come together great, the repair has come together great,” he said. “There are 16 points available to the winner, and to put that into context, we have 23 points now, so it’s going to be a big move and shake. We had a successful Southern Ocean leg last time and we’re looking to repeat that performance.”

During the last edition of the VOR, Enright and fellow American Mark Towill were the first around Cape Horn with Team Alvimedica.

Despite its setback, Vestas 11th Hour is fifth with 16 points, ahead of SHK/Scallywag with 15 and Turn the Tide on Plastic with 11.

Highlights of yesterday's press conference in Auckland with the VOR skippers.

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