In the Volvo Ocean Race, double points will be at stake this weekend as the five teams gather in Abu Dhabi to prepare for scoring opportunities starting with Friday’s Etihad Airways In-Port Race.
Six points are on offer for first place in the third in-port race of the race’s current edition and with a further six points available for the winners in the Leg 3 Stage 1 sprint starting on Saturday there are real chances for teams looking to shake up the overall leaderboard.
The Etihad Airways In-Port Race starts at 1400 local time (1000 UTC/GMT) on Friday and the course will be set up to last 60 minutes.
According to forecasts, winds could be very light with just a touch of sea breeze, though whatever the conditions Ian Walker, skipper of the home team Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, can expect ardent support from fans at the first Middle East stopover in the race’s 38-year history.
'It’s amazing just how passionate the fans here are,' said Walker. 'You get this feeling that everyone just wants you to do well, and it makes you want to do your very best. I’m pretty confident things will turn out well for us.'
Team Telefónica lead the overall standings with an eight-point advantage over Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, meaning there could conceivably be a new leader by the time the boats are loaded on to a ship for the final phase of the race’s unprecedented anti-piracy plan.
Even if that is unlikely – it would mean Camper winning and Telefónica finishing fifth in each race – the points on offer for the in-port race and the sprint up to Sharjah make an enticing target for all the skippers.
'You never know how the race is going to finish so we have to fight for every single point,' said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez. 'Very light airs inshore races are probably not the easiest conditions for us so we have been training here and working on our boat handling manoeuvres.'
Fellow Spaniard Roberto ‘Chuny’ Bermúdez, helmsman/trimmer on chief rivals Camper, said the first moments of the race could be decisive.
'The start is very important,' he said. 'Whoever gets away first in these conditions will have a big advantage. Our starts have gone well so far and that could be an advantage for us.'
Groupama sailing team, in third place 24 points behind the leaders, are in confident mood after winning the Leg 2 Stage 2 sprint into Abu Dhabi and following that up with victory in the non-scoring practice race on Wednesday. 'We’re in good spirits,' said skipper Franck Cammas. 'We had a new light sail, a masthead zero, that we deployed for the first time in the practice race and we were as fast as Camper at the start.'
Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg are fourth overall, 38 points behind the leaders, and skipper Ken Read is eager to get back into race routine after they recovered from their Leg 1 dismasting to take third place in Leg 2.
'I think the whole race needs to get into a rhythm,' he said. 'That won’t be for a while with the shipping to come on Leg 3 but everyone’s looking forward to it.
'This sort of race is hard, even in light airs. It doesn’t have to be pretty but we have to be error-free.'
Abu Dhabi are a further nine points behind Puma following their forced retirement on Leg 1 and fifth place in Leg 2 but they will be buoyed not only by home support but memories of their in-port race victory in light conditions in Alicante.
After completing the Leg 3 Stage 1 sprint out of Abu Dhabi starting on Saturday the boats will be loaded onto a ship and transported through piracy-affected waters to a loading/unloading port in the Indian Ocean. That follows the similar measures, taken in reverse, for Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.
The fleet will resume racing from there and complete Leg 3 to Sanya in China.
Team Sanya failed to make it to Abu Dhabi after suffering rigging problems that forced them into port at Madagascar. They have resumed racing and will score points for Leg 2 and Friday’s in-port race if they complete Leg 2 Stage 1 under race conditions.
They should be able to rejoin the fleet for the second stage of Leg 3.