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May 7, 5:28 PM EDT

Chinese crew wins tight finish to Newport in Ocean Race

AP Photo
AP Photo/Steven Senne

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NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) -- After six months at sea, including 17 days on the 5,000 nautical mile leg from Brazil, less than four minutes separated the two top finishers in the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race on their arrival in Newport.

Chinese challenger Dongfeng Race Team recovered from a broken mast in the previous leg to arrive in this sailing capital late Wednesday night in a time of 17 days, 9 hours, 3 minutes. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, which leads the overall standings thanks to Dongfeng's mishap in Leg 5, was second to arrive in Narragansett Bay.

"I'm a bit surprised by the small difference between the boats," Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier, whose team trails in the overall standings by six points, said on Thursday after the arrival news conference.

Team Brunel was third, about 50 minutes further back, followed 38 minutes later by Mapfre. Alvimedica, with Rhode Island native Charlie Enright as skipper, was fifth, another four hours behind and the all-women's crew of SCA arrived six hours behind them.

Caudrelier, a Frenchman, said the close finish is a result of organizers' decision use one-design boats for this edition of the race. The move eliminates the expensive technology race that has developed in the sport, and leaves more of the outcome dependent on sailing skill.

So far this race has seen two of the top 12 closest finishes in the around-the-world race's history.

"Before, if you had a good boat, you had a good race. If you had a bad boat, you had a terrible time," Caudrelier said, adding that the format does encourage teams to stay with the fleet rather than take risks. "It's not the first time it will happen in one-design racing."

On a 70-degree and sunny day, the crews scrubbed their boats and re-connected with their families at the Fort Adams State Park, the home of the Newport Folk Festival and the port for the only United States stop on the nine month, four ocean, 38,739 nautical mile race.

Enright was able to sleep in his own bed for the first time since a three-day break at Christmas. He said about 45 spectator boats were there to greet him when he arrived in the early morning doldrums that slowed Alvimedica to a crawl.

"Coming in with all the boats and seeing the Newport bridge, it really is amazing," said Enright, whose team is fourth, 13 points behind, in the overall standings. "Really, just a great homecoming - all things aside."

The Chinese boat had started the previous stage as joint race leaders but their mast fractured 200nm from Cape Horn in the Southern Ocean, and they were forced to retire from that stage for repairs and a new mast fitting. That left them with an eighth-place finish and eight points for the leg; the team with the fewest points wins.

The shore crew repaired their stricken boat in Itajaí, Brazil, in less than a week.

"For this leg, the goal was to be ready in Itajaí and the (shore) crew did a fantastic job," Caudrelier said. "I'd like to give them credit for the victory. "I'm very proud of them and very happy to take this first place. They worked very hard to get this boat ready. I'm really, really happy."

The Emerati boat made Caudrelier and his men work all the way for the win after more than 17 days at sea and even threatened to overturn their lead as they passed Block Island 30nm from the finish.

"We were within a couple of lengths of getting over them at Block Island - literally three or four boat lengths from rolling them - but they held on and dug deep," said their British skipper Ian Walker.

The boats will now have 10 days in dock in Newport for maintenance before returning to the offshore action with the trans-Atlantic leg to Lisbon, Portugal. There then follows two legs to France and Sweden before the event concludes on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

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