ABU DHABI // In a whiplashing finish in Sharjah's early darkness yesterday, Azzam grabbed the lead about seven minutes from the end of six-and-a-half sailing hours, won the first stage of Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race and sustained the exhilaration it had gathered on Friday.
The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team collected the six points afforded the stage winner by landing atop a leader board that spent the last 40 minutes of the sprint in a compelling state of volatility.
Abu Dhabi's passage to the front happened within three nautical miles from the end of the 106-mile sprint, according to the race website.
Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi skipper, told the Volvo Ocean Race website: "Definitely, coming into Abu Dhabi in fifth was a low point, but the stopover has been a fantastic high and, you know, who would have thought we'd get two firsts to round it off?"
He gave strong credit to the navigator Jules Salter. "So, couldn't be happier but in terms of points of course, it's far more important that we do well on the next leg."
The 106-nautical-mile rush from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah was the first of two parts for Leg 3 of the nine-leg, 39,270-nautical-mile, round-the-world race. In Sharjah, because of piracy concerns, five boats will go on to a transport ship, which will deliver them to an undisclosed port from which they, plus sixth entry Team Sanya, will race toward the fourth stopover, in Sanya, China.
The winner of that second-stage ocean portion will reap 24 points.
But first, five crews and maybe even those following them might need a rest, after the span of water from the final marker to the finish saw the first-place boat dip to fourth, the second-place boat surge to first and the fourth-place boat roar to second. The third-place boat, the French entry Groupama, had led only 30 minutes prior to Abu Dhabi's finish.
After streaming out to sea from Abu Dhabi first in mid-afternoon, the Spanish entry and overall leader Telefonica hogged the lead all through the Arabian Gulf, maintaining it through the late afternoon and early evening, seemingly cured of its woes of a fifth-place finish Friday in the In-Port. Abu Dhabi spent much of the day in second place but, according to Walker, eventually gained the notion that "we're going faster and it's possible we could get them".
Just after 7.50pm, the table started jostling. Groupama took the lead with Telefonica second, Abu Dhabi third, the American entry Puma fourth and the Spanish-Kiwi entry Camper fifth. By 8.15pm, Telefonica led with Abu Dhabi second and Groupama third, but by 8.23pm, Abu Dhabi had the lead with Telefonica second and Groupama third.
Azzam finished at 8.29pm, with the Puma team romping from fourth to a commendable second, 1 minute 16 seconds behind, and Telefonica tumbling to fourth. The outcome pushed Abu Dhabi's point total to 31, which kept them in fifth place overall but moved them closer to Puma's Mar Mostro, who hold 36 after joining Abu Dhabi in recovering from a broken mast during Leg 1. Telefonica stand on 71, with Camper on 64 and Groupama on 51.
The temperamental ending made a bookend to an outset that also saw its position changes. In the haze of 2pm, after the farewell ceremony, Abu Dhabi mistimed their start and began fifth as the teams manoeuvred through the markers that began the course. Shortly after that, though, Abu Dhabi repeated their lone-wolf role from Friday, venturing dramatically to the right of the others in search of something fresh.
It worked beautifully, with Azzam overtaking three rivals and settling in second place behind Telefonica as the boats dropped off the horizon.