Volvo Ocean Race: One Last Sleep

Published on October 21st, 2017

by Rob Kothe
Alicante, Spain (October 21, 2017) – The battle to win the Volvo Ocean Race starts in earnest tomorrow, from the start in Alicante on Leg One, a race of 1450 nautical miles to Lisbon Portugal, via Porto Santo, a small island to the northwest of Madeira, 490 nm from Lisbon, well off the Morocco coast.

The fleet is scheduled to arrive in Lisbon next Saturday afternoon (Oct. 28), highly desirable from a Corporate perspective.

But the strong conditions presenting in the weather forecasts suggest a fast passage, so Race Director Phil Lawrence has suggested that if these eventuate, a virtual waypoint, up to 250 miles due north of Porto Santo would extend the race so the leaders will arrive as scheduled. That can be done mid-leg, so the ETA can be very precise.

From the start, it is looking like a sleigh ride down wind and through the Gibraltar Straits, with following winds of 20 or so knots, making a Gibraltar exit in 24 hours.

There is currently a small low stalled off the northern Portuguese coast and its progress over the next few days will be important, but right now all the models suggest that it will be a fast-downhill slide for most of the way to Porto Santo, then a southerly wind will continue the dream run up to the virtual mark, with the fleet then blast reaching to Lisbon. All in all, lovely first leg weather for all the VOR newbies, of which there are many.

There is general agreement amongst the VOR veterans that the quality of the crews for this 2017-2018 race is the highest in the race history. There are veterans aplenty with outgoing VOR CEO Mark Turner noting that many sailors from early races have returned and there has been a high-quality infusion of Olympian and America’s Cup sailors.

With perfect Spanish Saturday weather today, crowds were pouring into the Alicante Race Village from early morning and by mid-day there were long queues at the security scanning points.

The Spanish entry Mapfre, the early race favourite after wins in two of three Leg Zero events, the Prologue win, and the In-Port winner, was naturally the magnet for the Spanish crowds as well as local politicians.

Skipper Xabi Fernández has assembled a strong experienced crew, reinforced with some short course speedsters, has had a good preparation, and is delivering the results. Yesterday he told the overflowing media press conference, “We have to sail as fast as we can. I think we are ready but I know these guys around us, on the other teams, are going to be ready as well.”

Behind her, Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng is well-funded, with much more depth in his team. It’s not just having plenty of preparation time it’s how you use it. His crew speak glowingly of his leadership style, and with veterans like Stu Ballantyne, seven times race veteran saying, “We have the speed and smarts to win. We beat Mapfre in the Fastnet and we’ve spent a lot of time preparing for the longer ocean legs and we think that will be our strength.”

Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel, second in the prologue, is looking for his first win and he has the team to do it. It will be interesting to see how America’s Cup winner Pete Burling goes in the long legs.

Those three boats are certainly podium favourites, but anything could happen over the next 43 thousand nautical miles.

First to be announced and funded, the AkzoNobel team, should have been best prepared, but they are certainly not. They inexplicably commissioned a new boat, which meant they lost valuable time. The boats, old and new, are strictly one design and the new build has shown no speed advantage. The AkzoNobel crew are clinging to the hope that by race end, the new boat will be more rigid and hence faster than its second time around rivals, but this scribe could find no one amongst the Boatyard Team nor amongst the fleet who felt that the trade-off was worthwhile.

Brad Jackson, the newly appointed AkzoNobel skipper, is not phased having been thrust into the role, after Simeon Tienpoint’s departure. He said yesterday, “I don’t think much will change on the boat, but to be honest I wish we were sailing straight to Cape Town.”

No doubt to escape media pressure, I suspect.

Jackson’s role has been put into question, however, as the Dutch Arbitration Institute process have thrown another spanner in the works with Teinpont’s viewpoint supported and there is currently discussion today about Tienpont returning as skipper.

Team Vestas, is the old Alvimedica. Charlie Enright and Mark Towill had just one circumnavigator in the last edition, this time that has jumped to 23, they are yet to show their best form, but could easily string Southern Ocean wins together and that would change the face of the race. Enright says, “We did not enter to come fourth. We are expecting to see rapid improvement as the team gels.”

The likely tail gunners?

Turn the Tide on Plastic Skipper Dee Caffari is proud of her relatively inexperienced fifty-fifty mix gender team and is expecting rapidly improving results as the race progresses. Liz Wardley, the Boat Captain, spent six months skippering VOR65s after the last race and was then in the Boatyard for the full refit process. She says they are much more advanced than SCA was at the race start.

David Witt, skipper of Sun Hung Kai Team Scallywag, is the definitively the Wag of the seven skippers. He says, “This race is the best way he knows to lose weight.”

Witt believes his overall smaller numbered crew will help speed them on the longer legs. With a total of eight crew, any injury will leave them in a difficult position. However, the privately funded campaign has not got the enervating sponsor responsibilities at the many short stopovers.

Overall, the fact is that probably all seven of the boats will win legs, however, the double points legs from Cape Town to Melbourne, Auckland to Itajai, and Newport to Cardiff will surely sort the Men and Women from the Boys and Girls.

Tonight, the last sleep, although one suspects there won’t be much for AkzoNobel as the turmoil continues.

Watch the start here:

 


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The first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race will start on October 22 and extend 1450 nm from Alicante, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal via Porto Santo.

2017-18 Edition: Entered Teams – Skippers
Team AkzoNobel (NED), Brad Jackson (NZL)
Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA)
MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP)
Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA)
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS)
Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR)
Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED)

Background: Racing the one design Volvo Ocean 65, the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante, Spain on October 22 2017 with the final finish in The Hague, Netherlands on June 30 2018. In total, the 11-leg race will visit 12 cities in six continents: Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg, and The Hague. A maximum of eight teams will compete.

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