Lisbon, here we come!
The sailors could have been forgiven for taking a longing last look at Newport after a memorable stopover, but it was straight down to business on Sunday as they headed for their Leg 7 Atlantic crossing towards the Portuguese capital.

The Rhode Islanders and American sailing fans from all around the nation swarmed into Fort Adams in their tens of thousands to watch the Volvo Ocean Racers up close and they were rewarded with near perfect sun-bathed conditions with a light 10 knots of wind for the departure.

The stopover has been so successful that race officials have changed their normal protocol and offered the Newport organisers an exclusive two-month window to seal a deal on the next race as the only North American stopover.

Light winds are likely to stall the six-strong fleet’s progress in the early hours of the 2,800-nautical mile Leg 7 to Lisbon, but after a day or so conditions are likely to roughen up while temperatures drop considerably.

The fleet served up a fitting farewell show to the packed docks and huge spectator flotilla who had flocked to Newport to see them off.

Dongfeng Race Team, so determined to cut Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s overall six-point lead further following their Leg 6 victory over them from Itajaí, belied fears of a botched start to manoeuvre themselves clear beyond the first turn.

Boosted by the arrival of French race veteran Sidney Gavignet, the Chinese-backed crew tried to follow the example of Saturday’s Team Vestas Wind In-Port Race Newport winners MAPFRE by taking an early grip on proceedings.

Unlike the Spanish, however, they could not retain their advantage and it was Iker Martínez’s crew who overhauled them to take the honour of leading the fleet out of Newport first.

Team Brunel and Team SCA also sailed cannily around the inshore laps before heading for the open seas, but these were early skirmishes in a stage that is likely to take around eight to 10 days to complete.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, meantime, were lagging at the back of the fleet behind local heroes Team Alvimedica and yet to find top gear so early in the leg.

As their skipper Ian Walker told reporters beforehand, the cross-Atlantic leg poses all kind of challenges including handling the Gulf Stream current, dealing with under-water man-made and marine animal obstacles, and managing wildy fluctuating weather.

Link: VOR