Team Telefónica set a cracking pace in a quickfire inshore course on Saturday. They led the Volvo Ocean Race fleet out of Abu Dhabi on Leg 3 Stage 1 sprint to Sharjah.
The 106nm Stage 1 race to Sharjah carried 20 per cent of the overall Leg 3 points, with six points up for grabs for first place and the overall Volvo Ocean Race leaders nailed the start and quickly accelerated to a smoking 16 knots boat speed within minutes to take the lead.
The Spanish team rounded the first mark in pole position, just eight seconds ahead of Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand. Iker Martínez extended his team’s lead over Camper to 28 seconds by the second mark.
Groupama trailed in third position, followed by Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in last place, quite the contrast to their winning form in yesterday’s Etihad Airways In-Port Race.
But the locals fought back, with Abu Dhabi making a gallant charge on the third leg, claiming three scalps to gain second position.
As the west-northwest wind built to gust up to 18 knots the fleet was unable to challenge Telefónica’s lead across the eight nautical mile inshore course.
At the final mark rounding Telefónica were 24 seconds ahead of Abu Dhabi, with Camper, Groupama and PUMA trailing more than two minutes behind.
Within two miles of the finish Abu Dhabi skipper British Olympian Ian Walker stole the lead from Team Telefónica, who had held pole position over the fleet from the start of the 106 nautical mile race to Sharjah.
The first Emirati team to ever compete in the race crossed the finish line at 1629 UTC, scoring the maximum six points and boosting their points tally to 31.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing clinched victory by little more than one minute over Puma in a thrilling finish of the first stage of Leg 3, continuing their winning streak in home waters.
Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg netted five points for second place, finishing just one minute and 16 seconds behind Abu Dhabi. Groupama sailing team earned four points for third, Telefónica placed fourth for three and Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand will receive two for fifth.
Winning the sprint capped off a stellar week of racing for the locals, who leave their homeport as heroes having also won the Etihad Airways In-Port Race on Friday.
Bidding farewell to the first Middle Eastern stopover in the race’s 38-year history was a bittersweet moment for the sailors, who shared many hugs and kisses with friends, family and fans.
English cricketers including bowler Graeme Swann and batsman Alistair Cook also revelled in the departures, racing on board Azzam before diving into the Gulf from the speeding racing yacht.
As with Leg 2 of the race, Leg 3 is split into two parts to prevent the boats from sailing through dangerous waters off the coast of Africa.
The fleet will be loaded onto a ship in Sharjah and transported to a safe haven port in the Indian Ocean. Once the boats are unloaded, racing to Sanya will resume around January 23, and the first boats could reach Sanya by February 4.
Leaderboard: 1. Team Telefonica 71 2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 64 3. Groupama sailing team 51 4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 36 5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 31 6. Team Sanya 4*
* If Team Sanya complete Leg 2 Stage 1 in racing conditions they will score the following points: 4pts for Leg 2 Stage 1, 1pt for Leg 2 Stage 2 and 2pts for Abu Dhabi In-Port Race (a total of 7pts).