“Telefónica” added a third consecutive victory (the second offshore) to its track record on the evening of the 26th of December, by crossing the finishing line at 17:57:20 UTC, skimming a two-minute lead over the New Zealanders on “Camper”, in second place. The Spanish boat took a total of 15 days and 5 hours to complete the first stretch of the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, a leg linking the ports of Cape Town (South Africa) and Abu Dhabi (UAE).
It took 15 days of hard slog to get to the safe haven port, or 'Point A' where the first stretch of the second leg finishes. The leg was divided into two to avoid any problems with pirates, active in the Indian Ocean. As might be expected, spirits among the Spanish boat's crew are sky high with the team now sitting at the top of the round the world leaderboard with 61 points, seven more that the New Zealand team headed up by Chris Nicholson and 25 more than third placed entry in the provisional standings, “Groupama”.
“It's a great satisfaction to have won. All of our hard work has been rewarded and now we can have a rest and enjoy New Year's Eve”, said an emotional Pablo Arrarte minutes after crossing the finishing line.
It wasn't an easy leg finish for either “Telefónica” nor “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand” as they battled it out in match-racing style, with the balance eventually tipping in favour of the Spaniards. It was only at the last minute that the positions were defined. For Iker Martínez this was a “very tight finish because we were right up against each other the whole time. We tried to pass them but it was impossible until right at the end because both boats perform at similar speeds and the one in front always has the edge. So we waited for them to make a mistake, but they didn't make any... In the end, when we'd almost though that it would be impossible, the moment arrived. It was night, there was no moon and you couldn't even see the sea, and they were becalmed for a moment and we got past them.” There's no doubt that this was a great satisfaction for the Spanish crew, who were fighting for the win right up until the moment they heard the horn sound to proclaim them winners of this first section of the leg.
It was an absolutely thrilling day for the Spanish team, which had watched every position report intently, moving in as close as 0.3 miles to the Kiwis. That final report before the finish revealed just how even these two yachts are. Pablo Arrarte, form the northern Spanish region of Cantabria ran us through those last few miles, just before “Telefónica” brought the goods home for Spain: “It was right at the end, on the very last stretch that we managed to catch a gust that we'd been looking for. We got past them and we'd been fighting all of the way on the last downwind leg with manoeuvres and crossed and all sorts. It was very tight, but we did it.”
A very different leg
There's no doubt that these have been some of the most difficult miles so far for the fleet and for “Telefónica”, who has really exceeded herself in the most adverse conditions for the boat: those with only light breeze.
Shortly after reaching the port, Xabi Fernández cast a glance back over the leg, one which has left the Spanish crew exhausted: “It's been quite a strange leg, and there's been a bit of everything. We weren't well-placed at the start, but then we spent a few days leading the fleet, but things didn't pan out as we thought they would and we ended up in last place... We pushed forward from behind and I think that we'd say that there were a few moments where we would even have been happy with a different result to this. We then began the journey up to the Equator at speeds which permitted us to catch up with the boats in front and that's where you really put up a fight. Really though, at about half way through the leg things were looking tricky.”
Jordi Calafat was very positive about the leg overall, saying: “It was a bit different to what we expected. First we were looking for a shift, a change in the breeze that wasn't to be and that made the situation difficult for us. We were fighting for the red light for a couple of days, but we managed to turn the situation around and to finish in first place. That's not too bad at all!”
The sailor from the Spanish island of Mallorca also took the opportunity to comment on the sail inventory, saying: “I think that this was the best stretch of the race. We've had two very interesting days indeed testing things out with 'Camper'. It's not that easy because their hull is a different shape to ours, and maybe in these light airs they have a bit more power than us. However, I'd definitely say that this experience will have been of great use when it comes to the sails we have to design next week, and we've learned something. We've also learned what things we have to improve in the future, so I think that all in all it's been very positive.”
Third consecutive win for the Spanish team in the Volvo Ocean Race
With this latest win the Spanish team has notched up its third victory in a row in this regatta after winning the first leg between Alicante and Cape Town and the in-port race in South Africa. As Calafat says, it really is a “tremendous” situation.
Prudence is still key for “Telefónica” and according to Pablo Arrarte it's still far too early to draw any conclusions: “All of the boats are very even and it depends a lot on where you are sailing. We both sailed very nearby on another most of the time and we took the same routing and I think that really made a difference. We also saw later how when you are right up beside another boat it's never easy. It hasn't been easy to get past any of the boats, so anything can happen on any leg. Any boats together will have a fight on their hands. Things will depend on where you sail and above all on not making any mistakes”.
For Xabi Fernández this has also been win that they worked very hard for, as the double Olympic-medallist explains: “The key was not giving in, and not giving up on the whole thing, because it's been very stressful and at times it was easy to just think that we'd never get past them. We just kept on trying and trying and in the end we were able to make the most of a chance, a gust, and we got past. The last few miles were madness, a real match race, and now it's over I'd say it was fun but it was also very stressful.” Pablo Arrarte reminded us that “It was the crew's work, carrying out every manoeuvre, stacking at the right time and not resting when there was no time to and giving it their all and going the right way. I think that these things all go hand in hand when it comes to getting in front.”
Loading and unloading zone
With another win on the scoresheet, “Telefónica” takes 80% of the points for the second leg: 24 points. However, there's no forgetting that the leg isn't over yet. In a bid to guarantee the safety of the fleet against pirate activity in the Indian Ocean, the Volvo Ocean Race organisers divided the leg into two sections. The first has now been raced and the second, where 6 points are in play will be raced in the Persian Gulf and ending in Abu Dhabi.
For now it's time to begin the whole process of loading “Telefónica” and the rest of the yachts onto the heavy armed ship that will take the Volvo Open 70s to the coast of Sharjah in the Persian Gulf, where they will be unloaded for racing to recommence.
In the meantime the Spanish team “Telefónica” will take a good look at the boat ahead of the imminent start of the second stretch of the leg, as Pablo Arrarte explains: “We finished and since then we've been checking everything over. This time the shore crew aren't allowed to help us, so we've been doing it all ourselves using only what we've got on board. We've begun repairing the most important things and as we are not sailing it's easier and more comfortable to do, so much better. We've got the boat more or less ready for the next leg.”
As to be expected, Iker Martínez was somewhat concerned about the loading and unloading process and has been finding it difficult to forget that: “these boats are made for being on the water”. However, the “Telefónica” skipper has total confidence in his team. “The whole loading and unloading of the boat is complicated, but we've got the guys from our team here and they are really great at doing this and we trust them completely. I'm sure everything will go just fine” concluded the Basque skipper.
PROVISIONAL OVERALL STANDINGS. Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.
1. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), 61 points
2. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), 54 points
3. Groupama Sailing Team (Franck Cammas), 36 points
4. Puma powered by Berg (Ken Read), 25 points
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), 17 points
6. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), 4 points
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