Volvo Ocean Race – Itajaí at fever pitch

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Itajaí was gearing up for a thrilling finale to one of the most closely contested Southern Ocean/south Atlantic legs in the 41-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race with four boats still in with a chance of an epic victory on Sunday evening (see full story below)

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ITAJAÍ, Brazil, April 4 – Itajaí was gearing up for a thrilling finale to one of the most closely contested Southern Ocean/south Atlantic legs in the 41-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race with four boats still in with a chance of an epic victory on Sunday evening.

The south-eastern Brazilian port is already a major centre of race fans following the last visit in 2011-12 when tens of thousands turned out to greet the boats into their harbour.

Sunday’s climax to three weeks and 6,776 nautical miles (nm) of classic, rough ocean racing could well surpass that, with excitement in the city at fever pitch already.

In 2012, PUMA were clear winners; this time it promises to be a four-way sprint all the way to the finish.

At 0940 UTC on Saturday, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) still had their noses just in front, but an incredibly tight 6.5nm separated them from fourth-placed boat Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) with MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) sandwiched in between (see panel above).

The leg, from Auckland, has once again lived up to its notorious reputation as a real boat-breaker.

Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) were forced to retire from the stage midweek after breaking their mast on Monday.

They are currently making their way to Itajaí, under sail and motor, in their own race against time to refit a new mast ready for Leg 6 to Newport, Rhode Island, on April 19.

They join Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) as temporarily out of the race with the Danish boat currently undergoing a rebuild at the Persico boatyard in Bergamo, Italy, with the aim of returning to action for Legs 8 and 9 in June.

At the back of the racing fleet, Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) continue to battle on doggedly following damage to three sails, but higher pressure for them cut dozens of nautical miles off their deficit and at 0940 UTC, they trailed by around 585nm.

Team Brunel, meanwhile, added to the growing list of repairs needed in Itajaí when their key J1 sail ripped for the second time overnight.

Louis Balcaen (BEL) conceded: “This is a downer: We were doing so well; we really, really came back. And now we will miss the main sail! Acid! But we’ll find something else!”

The leading boats are expected to arrive in Itajaí from 1900-2100 UTC on Sunday with tough conditions continuing to the last (see latest Watch Log).

They have one more major tack to take, midway through Saturday, before reaching Brazil. Team SCA are expected to complete the most testing of all nine legs a little over 24 hours later.

Victory would give Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing a seven-point lead at the top of the standings, but with four legs to go of the 38,739nm marathon there’s still all to sail for before offshore sailing’s leading challenge finishes on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Why is Brazil  in love with the Volvo Ocean Race?

It’s been on the Volvo Ocean Race’s map since the beginning. The country has hosted eight stopovers since the first edition in 1973-74.

1973-74 – Rio de Janeiro
1977-78 – Rio de Janeiro
1997-98 – São Sebastião
2001-02 – Rio de Janeiro
2005-06 – Rio de Janeiro
2008-09 – Rio de Janeiro
2011-12 – Itajaí
2014-15 – Itajaí

Brazilian sailors have always been part of it, too. Nine of them have entered the race.

John Anderson
1977-78, Flyer

Lucas Brun
2005-06, ABN AMRO TWO

Horacio Carabelli – the Brazilian sailed the race twice before moving to the shore side
2005-06, Brasil 1
2008-09, Ericsson 4

Marceloo Ferreira
2005-06, Brasil 1

Andre Fonseca – Bochecha is our one and only Brazilian sailor this time around. He’s part of the Spanish team MAPFRE
2005-06, Brasil 1
2008-09, Delta Lloyd
2014-15, MAPFRE

Torben Grael – one of the most famous Brazilian sailors and a race winner six years ago
1997-98, Innovation Kvaerner
2005-06, Brasil 1
2008-09, Ericsson 4

Henrique Pellicano
2005-06 Brasil 1

Fernando Peres
1981-82, La Barca Laboratorio

Joao Signorini – a three-time race veteran now coach for Team SCA
2005-06, Brasil 1
2008-09, Ericsson 4
2011-12, Telefónica

They had their own Volvo Ocean Race team. Skippered by Torben Grael, Brasil 1 finished third of the 2005-06 edition. Race CEO Knut Frostad was onboard at the time. The only Brazilian team to ever compete in the race, Brasil 1 will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Itajaí.

They’ve got their own sailing legend. Torben Grael won five Olympics medals, six World Championships, the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2000 AND the Volvo Ocean Race in 2008-09 with Ericsson 4.

His brother Lars Grael is an Olympic medalist too, and he kept sailing at a high level despite losing a leg in a boating accident.

With Kahena Kunze, his daughter Martine Grael is one of the Olympic favourites in the 49er FX class for Rio 2016. Later on, Martine would love to join the race with an all-female team.

They’ve got TWO sailing legends. Robert Scheidt is world famous for his Olympic success. He’s got five Olympic medals and was crowned 13 times as a World Champion in the Star and Laser classes.

Brazil is big in Olympic sailing. Over the years, Olympic sailors have won 17 medals for Brazil – only judo got more with 19 medals! And the next Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro, though the class they’re most successful in, the Star, is now out.

Made in Brazil. The C30 is the only boat 100% made in Brazil. The ‘C’ stands for the Volvo sailor Carabelli. Bochecha, currently on MAPFRE, is also an advisor for this class.

Offshore races are more popular than you think. The sailing weeks of Ilhabela, Santa Catarina and Búzios are among the most famous. Itajaí is getting there, too. The Recife – Noronha and Buenos Aires – Rio are classics.

And that shows in the footfall in Itajaí. 282,000 visitors came to the race village in 2012 – over a quarter of a million. 28,372 people cheered for the In-Port Race, and 25,000 waved the sailors good-bye on the day of Leg 6 start.

Joao Signorini (see sailors above), the only Brazilian in the 2011-12 race, was given a memory he’ll never forget as thousands cheered him home onboard Telefónica.

Bochecha is coming home. MAPFRE’s André Fonseca is from Florianopolis, a city just 100 km south of Itajaí. A talented helmsman, he’s expected to arrive on Sunday, April 5 with the rest of the front pack.

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