The second place finish at Itajaí (Brazil) for Spanish boat “Telefónica”, just 12 minutes behind the leg leader American boat “Puma”, following 19 days, 18 hours, 22 minutes and 28 seconds of racing and having made a 17 hour pit stop for repairs at Cape Horn meant another big step towards the team's overall target: to win the Volvo Ocean Race.
On the 18th of March in New Zealand's 'City of Sails', Auckland, what is considered by many to be this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race's 'supreme' leg kicked off with the boats setting course for Itajaí in Brazil. The course would take them across the Pacific Ocean, round Cape Horn, up the Atlantic Ocean towards the Brazilian coast towards the state of Santa Catarina and Brazil's second most important port: Itajaí.
The first few days of the leg, just after setting off from New Zealand, featured a heavy upwind slog in search of the first southern 'train', which would help the boats speed off the East and towards the ice safety limits. On day one the entry from the UAE “Abu Dhabi” suffered damage to a bulkhead that forced a return to base at Auckland.
There were five boats in the race and “Telefónica” was the leg leader at this point. The fight was on to catch the first squall that would launch the boat into a gallop to Cape Horn. The Spanish boat opted for a consistently Southern positioning which would allow them to be the first of the boats to head towards the ice limits, but as the “Telefónica” skipper Iker Martínez admitted, the shift and the pressure hit the north first, with the yacht dropping a valuable 70 miles that meant pushing the boat extra hard to catch up with the frontrunners.
The following day the Spanish team logged some impressive speeds, sailing at average s topping 24 for knots for a period of 12 hours, but as the boat slammed back down off the crest of a wave, the crew heard a loud 'crack'... After an inspection of the whole boat Iker identified the damaged area of the bow.
Without dropping a knot in boat speed, “Telefónica” reached second place in the fleet as Pepe Ribes got to work inside the boat to minimise the damage as far as possible, in an effort to ensure the boat could continue to sail fast. However, the initial reinforcements couldn't withstand the huge force of the waves crashing into the boat and the damaged area continued to suffer delamination. The crew chose to reduce speed as they performed a second repair job to be able to safely reach Cape Horn without dropping back too far from the fleet leaders.
A few days earlier, Chinese boat “Sanya” broke a rudder and damaged the union between the rudder and hull and was forced to return to New Zealand, whilst Kiwi boat “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand” also headed for shore, setting course for Puerto Montt in Chile after structural problems including damage to a forward bulkhead. The day after, “Abu Dhabi” suffered more damage and followed in the wake of the New Zealanders to Chile.
Meanwhile, the three leading entries, “Groupama”, “Puma” and “Telefónica” continued on course to Cape Horn. A day before reaching the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Iker Martínez announced from on board “Telefónica” that the team had decided to make a technical pit stop to reinforce the repairs carried out by Ribes to the bow of the boat. “We will completely repair the damaged area so that we can forget about the issue for what's left of the leg,” said the skipper.
An unprecedented pit stop
The repair operation on the bow of “Telefónica” will go down in the annals of history of the Volvo Ocean Race, for some spectacular logistics and the impressive backdrop for the repairs: Cape Horn itself, Caleta Martial (Chile). A total of nine members of Team Telefónica's shore crew and boatbuilding team were recruited in Buenos Aires (Argentina) to go to Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city. Along with 300 kilos of gear to carry out repairs the team would load onto a 50 foot sailing boat to make the journey to Cape Horn. It was a three day passage with the boat reaching the Cape just one hour before “Telefónica” met the crew at the arranged meeting point.
“The shore crew had a great idea. They knew a person from near Cape Horn and they came to meet us on a yacht to help us to carry out the repairs... It was quite an adventure. This kind of thing is what makes this regatta so great,” declared Jordi Calafat from Mallorca as he arrived at Itajaí.
Following a 17 hour repair operation “Telefónica” was ready to resume the race and had a challenge in sight: to catch up “Groupama” and “Puma” who had got away into the Atlantic, some 412 miles in front. During the first three days “Telefónica” managed, thanks to some favourable weather, to get to just 80 miles of the fleet leg leaders, with 900 miles still to go to the finishing line. They also did it having dropped a crewmember, with Antonio “Ñeti” Cuervas-Mons forced to abandon the boat with a back injury suffered during a blow from a wave.
“Making the most of the fact that we're stopping here, together with Iker and our team doctor, Pablo Díaz-Munío, we've decided that it would be best for me to disembark at the Cape in order to speed up the recovery process, which would definitely be a lot slower on board and I might even risk not being at 100% for the next leg,” wrote the Spanish bowman from aboard “Telefónica” just moments before stepping off the yacht.
The pursuit continued and the Spaniards managed to cut down the gap by another 40 miles when “Groupama” dismasted, 50 miles off Punta del Este (Uruguay), turning the battle for the lead into a match race between the American and Spanish teams.
"Telefónica" continued to push the boat 110% and when they'd almost netted the “Puma” a 'Pampero' moved in (a cold front which forms between the Antarctic and moves across the Argentinian Pampa plains) and hit the boat in the dead of night, with headwinds of over 50 knots forcing the crew into survival mode, moving into a downwind sailing position to preserve the safety of the crew and material.
Iker Martínez and his guys didn't give up and were soon layering on the pressure again, slowly but surely hunting down “Puma” in their tracks and even moving parallel to the American yacht.
Xabi Fernández was clear about one thing: “When you've got problems things always get even trickier and you think you have a lot to lose, but what you really have to do is push on.”
The final wind transition allowed “Puma” to fend off attacks from the Spanish boat and to emerge as winners of the fifth leg, with a 12 minute lead over their rivals, whilst “Telefónica” viewed the second place finish as a personal victory, given the eventful nature of the 20 day passage from Auckland to Itajaí.
“Instead of relaxing and taking it more easy, we really pushed hard to get to Cape Horn as quickly as we could. After Cape Horn, up to here we pushed to the maximum with some very good weather, hoping that the other guys would run into trouble. That's what happened to 'Groupama' and we managed a second place which feels like a win,” said Fernández, moments after reaching Brazil.
“Thanks to the team and the entire crew, we are here, after what was a very long struggle from New Zealand,” said Alicante's Pepe Ribes, boat captain on “Telefónica”.
PABLO ARRARTE, helmsman.
It's been a very, very tough leg. Perhaps the key was in not breaking anything seriously and being able to carry out repairs that meant we could carry on sailing, which, in the end the other boats weren't able to do. “Puma” didn't stop and we carried out some small repairs to finish.
I think that there's no doubt that this has been the toughest leg so far. We've had all sorts of conditions and it was very cold, which also made a big difference. They were very tough conditions, especially for the boats that suffered serious issues and trying not breaking anything was very important.
ÑETI CUERVAS-MONS, bowman.
(A finish from the sidelines)
On one hand, the finish was very exciting, but for me personally it was sad not to be there with my crew mates and not to be able to help them to speed here against “Puma”. I think it's a great result for the team and when we were at Cape Horn, none of us imagined that we'd be able to do as well as we did. Personally I'm disappointed not to be on board, but happy because it's a great result.
(On his physical state)
After the scan, which was fairly good and showed that it's a muscular issue, yesterday was the first day that I managed to perform abdominal mobility exercises to strengthen. The doctor and physical trainer think that I'll be ready for the coastal race. I'm really happy in that sense, because at last I'm able to get back to doing some physical activity.
PEPE RIBES, boat captain.
We'd been fighting with “Puma” above all over the last 12 hours. We knew that there was an opportunity to get past them, which I think was on the day we finished in the morning, but we just missed it. They pushed away from us and won the leg.
I'd like to congratulate them because they've fought hard too and they finished in front, but for us this has been a great result in terms of the overall rankings and for our own morale.
PROVISIONAL OVERALL STANDINGS. Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.
1. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), 147 points
2. Puma powered by Berg (Ken Read), 113 points
3. Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas), 107 points*
4. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), 104 points*
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), 55 points
6. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), 25 points
(*) Still to finish leg
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