MIAMI — The American team in the Volvo Ocean Race — PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG — sailed triumphantly first across the finish line outside Government Cut on Wednesday afternoon, beating runner-up CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand by a little more than an hour to win the 4,800-nautical-mile leg six from Itajai, Brazil.
PUMA was accompanied by a couple dozen spectator boats for the last few miles to the finish line. Skipper Ken Read of Newport, R.I., and his 10-member crew were welcomed to the race village at Bicentennial Park by a few hundred cheering spectators and serenaded by a Bahamas Junkanoo ensemble before popping champagne on the central stage.
PUMA led the fleet for the entire leg, which took three days longer than expected in light breezes. But CAMPER, skippered by Chris Nicholson of Australia, stayed right on the American boat’s stern.
But PUMA got ahead of the runner-up team for good, crossing the Gulf Stream between Bimini and Miami, arriving here in 17 days, one hour, 13 minutes and 59 seconds after leaving Brazil.
“We had all the opportunity in the world to screw this leg up and just refused to do it. Pretty impressive,” Read said.
This was PUMA’s second straight leg victory in the nine-leg, 39,000-nautical-mile round-the-world race that began last November in Alicante, Spain. The American boat narrowly won a brutally rough Leg 5 from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai last month.
“We won the windiest leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, then we won one of the lighter-air legs of the Volvo Ocean Race,” Read said. “We’re not single-minded. We’re multifaceted. We can do anything.”
As the PUMA crew enjoyed a buffet lunch, a brief but fierce thunder-and-hailstorm beat down on the race village. The runner-up boat arrived at the dock just as the storm abated.
“We were hoping to go a bit slower and find that thunderstorm,” Nicholson said ruefully. “I’m disappointed it was so close over such a long period of time, but comfortable we were able to maintain that level for that long.”
Groupama finished third Wednesday night followed about 30 minutes later by overall race leader Team Telefonica in fourth. Fifth-place Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was expected to finish early Thursday.
The conclusion of leg six has tightened the standings among the top four teams with three legs to go before the final finish in Galway, Ireland, in July.
Telefonica has 164 points, followed by Groupama with 153, then CAMPER with 149, and PUMA with 147. Points are awarded based on leg finishes and in-port races. Abu Dhabi and Team Sanya, which was forced to withdraw from two legs for repairs, likely are out of contention.
Said Nicholson: “The pressure is mounting. We can feel it. It’s getting tighter.”
(c)2012 The Miami Herald