Vestas 11th Hour Racing wins the first leg of Volvo Ocean Race
Vestas 11th Hour Racing becomes a leader again. After the disastrous shipwreck of the last edition, the crew led by the U.S. skipper Charlie Enright has been the first to cross the finish line in Lisbon, 1870 nautical miles and a week after the start of the first leg of the prestigious round-the-world race in Alicante. Vestas was closely followed by the Spanish MAPFRE team in second place and the French-Chinese Dongfeng Race Team in third.
It was a spectacular arrival in the Portuguese capital city, with the finish line in the River Tagus, just a few kilometres away from the city centre. The crew of the blu-and-azure hull took 6 days, 2 hours, 6 minutes and 45 seconds to win the leg. The team now earns 8 points for their efforts (including a one point ‘bonus’ for winning the leg).
It’s a tremendous victory for the Vestas 11th Hour Racing – which US and Danish flags – that, just a few days ago, also had to overcome a few systems failures onboard during the leg. The team, in fact, discovered that a disconnected water ballast hose had filled the yacht with 800 liters of water.
Victory wasn’t easy. After a first phase under uncertain weather conditions, the wind shut down on the final approach, and an early morning lead of 34-nautical miles over second-placed MAPFRE was whittled down to 10-miles, with the finish in sight, but the current in the river even pushing the leaders back out to sea in some of the lulls. But the crew on the Vestas boat held their nerve, tacking first up and then down, zigzagging towards the line, into light headwinds. Both Xabi Fernandez, the Spanish skipper of the Volvo Ocean 65, and the French skipper Charles Caudrelier of the Dongfeng Race Team were forced to engage in battle against the current, by exploiting any single puff of air to get the finish lines. At the end, MAPFRE crew found a little zephyr of wind to finish 15-minutes ahead of the Chinese team.
If statistics can help to predict the future, things are looking up for Charlie Enright. The two American skippers who won the opening leg – John Kostecki, on the Illbruck boat in 2001-02, and Paul Cayard on the EF Language in 1997-98- indeed won the Volvo Ocean Race.
“We have a long way to go certainly, but this was a good way to start,” said skipper Charlie Enright. “SiFi (navigator Simon Fisher) did a great job. He didn’t really make any missteps… But every sked is nerve-wracking, especially when you’re stuck in a river going backwards!”
“Very pleased with the result. It’s a solid start, exactly what we wanted. We’re very happy,” said Xabi Fernández, the skipper of MAPFRE immediately after finishing. “We have to say Vestas did very well early on and we didn’t see them again… But then we had a strong 12-hours after Gibraltar and we stepped it up there.”
The experience and desire of the MAPFRE crew was on full display in the 30+ knot winds they had pushing out of the Mediterranean on the second night. Fernández and his team put in more manoeuvres than the rest of fleet to stay in a narrow band of strong winds and emerged from the experience in the second place slot they would never relinquish.
Dongfeng Racing Team skipper Charles Caudrelier made an excellent recovery on Leg 1, needing to scratch and claw for every inch, after falling to the back of the fleet on the approach to Gibraltar. And fight they did, slowly reeling in the fleet and finally recovering to pass team AkzoNobel with only 220 miles to go, to complete the podium.
“It was very hard,” Caudrelier said. ” Weather forecast and reality were often conflicting and this made the race even more interesting”.
The race for the final two positions was as intense as any that came before. Although it was a battle for sixth and seventh place, both Team Brunel and Turn the Tide on Plastic pushed as hard as possible to earn the extra point.
As with the boats in front, it was a slow-motion dance to the finish line, with Brunel gliding across in the dark, guided by America’s Cup star Peter Burling, to secure sixth place.
That left seventh place for Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic. Despite a brilliant start, the team which promotes an interesting UN campaign against plastic pollution in the oceans, proved to have still a long way to do to compete with the other teams.
Volvo Ocean Race 2017/18– Standings following Leg 1
1. Vestas 11th Hour Racing, 8 points
2. MAPFRE, 6 points
3. Dongfeng Race Team, 5 points
4. team AkzoNobel, 4 points
5. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, 3 points
6. Team Brunel, 2 points
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic, 1 point