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Volvo Ocean race leaves Brazil for Newport

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Itajai (Brazil) (AFP)

Seven Volvo Ocean Race yachts left Brazil on Sunday for Newport in the United States on the 8th leg of the tough round-the-world contest, marred last month by a sailor's death.

The departure from the Brazilian port of Itajai saw the two current overall race leaders heading the pack as they began the 6,559 mile (10,555 km) leg north, a spokesman for the race said.

Overall leader Dongfeng Race Team was just a few boat lengths behind current number two MAPFRE.

The route to Newport, a classic US sailing hotspot, will be a mixture of fast tradewind sailing and the tricky business of negotiating the equatorial doldrums.

"It?s a nice leg. We have to cross the doldrums again, but it should be in the easy part, further to the west, which is good,? said Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier.

However, Dongfeng can expect to have MAPFRE breathing down their necks.

"We need to step up again and use all our strength to try to win this leg," MAPFRE skipper Xabi Fernandez said.

The previous leg from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai was the toughest of the race, including swaths of the stormy, freezing southern ocean and the perilous route around Cape Horn.

British sailor John Fisher died in March after falling from the yacht SHK/Scallywag some 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) west of Cape Horn on the tip of South America.

Desperate attempts to recover the 47-year-old failed after the accident, which race organizers say occurred when he unclipped his safety harness before working at the bow of the boat, a risky place in bad weather.

On Sunday, the "Scallywag team was sporting a new logo on both boat and uniform honoring their lost teammate," organizers said.

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