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VOR: MAPFRE (ESP), Tuke (NZL) look to close in on history as last Leg 9 – the last long leg – begins

NEWPORT, R.I. (#1017) – The Volvo Ocean Race is heading back to Europe on the last of the long legs, giving Spanish-flagged MAPFRE a chance to solidify its slim lead over Dongfeng Race Team and Blair Tuke (NZL) a chance to close in on some personal history. Leg 9 from Newport, R.I., to Cardiff, Wales, begins on Sunday and will cover 3,300 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Befitting its status as one of the race’s classic legs, double points will be awarded for the final time.

Pre-race favorite MAPFRE hasn’t disappointed during the previous eight legs and some 40,000 nautical miles, although it leads Dongfeng by just three points, 53 to 50. Team Brunel is a distant third with 42 points followed by AkzoNobel with 36. After this coming Leg 9, only two short legs in Europe remain before a champion is crowned.

Tuke is closing in on becoming the first to win what we at Sailing Illustrated call the Triple Crown of Sailing, looking to add a VOR win to his America’s Cup title with Emirates Team New Zealand in June as well as two Olympic gold medals as crew for Peter Burling (NZL). Burling’s chances at the Triple Crown are a longshot at best, as his Team Brunel is fourth with 29 points. The previous closest a sailor has come to the "true" Triple Crown was by John Kostecki (USA), who won the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race as skipper of illbruckChallenge (GER), the America's Cup with Oracle Team USA in 2013 and the silver medal as skipper of the USA's entry in the Soling class at the 1988 Olympics in Korea. We call Kostecki's huge but slightly lesser achievement sailing's Trifecta.

Leg 9 should be dominated by the Westerly Storm Track, the wave of east-bound low pressure systems circulating around the Arctic and Antarctic. The start lies firmly in the Storm Track and unlike the previous race, when the finish was in Lisbon, so does the finish in Wales. This is the classic trans-Atlantic route, and as a result it should be both quicker and simpler.

The biggest complicating factor is the Gulf Stream, a powerful river of warm water within the ocean that originates in the Gulf of Mexico before flowing northwards out around Florida, up the eastern seaboard of the US to Newfoundland before setting out across the Atlantic.

Ice can be a big factor and it’s normal for race officials to set a northern limit for the race course. The idea is to keep the fleet away from the Grand Banks. This is where the cold water of the Labrador Current, which carries the ice down from the Arctic, meets the warm water of the Gulf Stream. It’s notorious for fog and bad storms, as well as icebergs. It’s where the Perfect Storm occurred.

Racing yachts across oceans started back in 1905, when hard-driving, three-time America’s Cup winner Charlie Barr won the Kaiser’s Cup on the schooner ATLANTIC. They crossed in just more than 12 days – not bad for a monohull even now.

This leg has seen plenty of drama and on one occasion tragedy. It was on the leg from New York to Portsmouth in 2005-06 that Dutch sailor Hans Horrevoets (NED) was swept overboard from the deck of ABN AMRO TWO. Although he was recovered after 40 minutes, he could not be resuscitated. A few days later, the keel structure on Movistar failed. A storm was inbound and forecast to hit 50 knots and so the crew abandoned ship – picked up by ABN AMRO TWO.

For the record, Team Brunel won today's Gurney's Resorts In-Port Race sailed in lightish air with the fleet shrouded in drizzle and fog. MAPFRE finished second and local favorite Vestas 11th Hour Racing was third. Full story on the VOR site here.

The view of across Newport Harbor from New York Yacht Club's Harbour Court at the end of first leg of today's In-Port Race as the yachts turn an ostensible windward mark near the eastern end of the Pell Newport Bridge.

Speaking of the local favorites, Vestas skipper Charlie Enright grew up and still lives in nearby Bristol, RI and attended college at the prestigious Brown University in Providence. This afternoon VOR media issued a nice video "At home with the Enrights" featuring Charlie and his family....

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