x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on the in-port race podium in China

Ian Walker's Azzam crew pick up four points after finishing behind Telefonica and Puma in the curtain-raiser to the start of Leg 4.

Spain's Team Telefonica, right, skippered by Iker Martínez, leads the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team before winning the in-port race.
Spain's Team Telefonica, right, skippered by Iker Martínez, leads the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team before winning the in-port race.

SANYA, China // An "OK day" for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing brought a third-place finish and sustained two themes.

Azzam maintains its prowess in in-port races, and Telefonica maintains its dominance in the Volvo Ocean Race.

When the fourth in-port race of the nine-month, round-the-world slog began in Sanya Haitang Bay this afternoon, with the skies cloudy and the winds fickle, Abu Dhabi had nestled into a choice spot on the left edge as experts swooned.

Then "the other side paid," skipper Ian Walker said.

Midway toward the first marker, the familiar light-blue of the seemingly unstoppable Telefonica charged hard and solitarily to the right, found breeze and found the front.

Abu Dhabi's mission soon became remaining "best of the rest," said Craig Satterthwaite, Azzam's most veteran Volvo sailor.

Azzam, who won the in-port race in the UAE last month, did hold onto the four points of third place, sustaining its distinction as the best in-port team thus far in this nine-leg, 10-stopover race, while Telefonica rebuffed Puma and tacked on a second in-port win to its three ocean leg wins.

When the numbers shook out, Telefonica's overall lead had widened to 18 points as the Spanish entry reached 101, ahead of 83 for the Spanish-Kiwi Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand, 73 for the French Groupama, 53 for the American Puma, 43 for the inaugural Abu Dhabi entry in the 39-year-old event, and 17 for China's Team Sanya, which placed sixth in its home In-Port Race.

"That's life," Walker said. "The good thing is we gave ourselves a chance of winning the race. So it's an OK day. Could have been better, but OK."

Abu Dhabi did man the podium along with runner-up Puma, but the bubbly kept spraying onto Telefonica, as Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton, a two-time winner of the race, bemoaned "more bleeding of points to Telefonica."

"It's separating a bit at the top, but the relentless charge of Telefonica continues," he said. "Unless it's arrested soon, it's done."

Once Telefonica assumed a lead born of "tactics" and being "in the right place," according to skipper Iker Martinez, it went around the first marker 28 seconds ahead of Puma, which had tacked beneath Abu Dhabi and surged. Puma closed that to three seconds by the second marker, but Telefonica ultimately won by 41 seconds, with Abu Dhabi, the in-port winner in both Spain and Abu Dhabi, four minutes and 20 seconds behind.

In its studied pursuit of Telefonica in the overall standings, Camper instead found a mood skipper Chris Nicholson called "sombre," languishing in sixth before finding its way to fourth. Dalton cited "two huge mistakes up the first beat and another down the first turn," while Nicholson said, "I feel very disappointed, and I'd hate to think how we'd be feeling if we stayed back where we were in last."

cculpepper@thenational.ae