The Volvo Ocean Race fleet set off from Miami in what seemed like slow motion this Sunday afternoon, on their first moves of this seventh leg of the round the world competition. At 17:00 UTC, 13:00 local time opposite Miami Beach, “Telefónica” commenced the first few miles of racing by completing an initial six mile stretch between buoys which took what seemed an eternity to negotiate due to the very light airs blowing in Miami's bay. Speeds among the six boats in the fleet did not top two knots at any point.
Skipper Iker Martínez had warned this morning, just before making his way towards the starting ceremony that: “It looks like there will be very little breeze at the start and we will have to try to get to a zone with more breeze as quickly as we can. There'll be quite a battle between us all.”
It's been seen before and it's been well-demonstrated on many different occasions that “Abu Dhabi” is the best prepared of the boats in light airs and as such took the first mark in the lead, followed by Iker Martínez and “Telefónica”, 47 seconds behind Ian Walker and co. It took the Spanish yacht eight minutes and fourteen seconds to reach the first mark.
Past the second mark “Telefónica” and “Groupama” swapped places with the French moving into second place, followed by the Spanish team throughout.
There were few other surprises on the rest of the course opening before the boats set off for the high seas, unlike yesterday's in port race. “Abu Dhabi” continued to lead, setting course for the open sea after an hour and fourteen minutes. It took the boat representing the United Arab Emirates that long to complete the six miles course, with Franck Cammas thirteen seconds behind them and Iker Martínez and “Telefónica” putting the fifth mark of the course astern three minutes and thirty-six seconds later.
Following these three were “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand", in fourth, “Puma” in fifth, six minutes and 59 seconds behind the leaders. Completing the fleet was “Sanya” with Mike Sanderson.
With the first two hours of the leg out of the way “Telefónica” was the boat furthest east in the fleet, with the Grand Bahama island to her bow.
Strong winds in a few days
For now the fleet must endure the heat in light airs, but watch leader on “Telefónica” Joca Signorini commented before heading out to the race course that stronger winds were expected in two or three days.
The first important tactical decision will be choosing whether to continue north or to position the boat to the east. “I presume that we all want the same thing, so we'll have to see what's better – if we go north or we go more to the east... It's not very clear yet, so there will be a good fight right from the start,” said Martínez.
“We'll get a lot of downwind sailing and reaching and we've got the boat for it. It's clear that both “Groupama” and “Puma” have been very strong lately in all conditions and they'll be making their presence felt. All of the boats are strong, and we know that and I'm sure that ‘Abu Dhabi’ are going to do well in this leg,” said Xabi Fernández.
“It's not only going to be a question of the boat but of being in the right place. There will be a few key moments and I hope it goes well,” added the Basque trimmer before starting the leg.
There are no favourites here or even boats with a better preparation for the leg in terms of their characteristics, as Iker Martínez points out: “I think that all of us and none of us are favourites because as we've seen so far all of the boats are very even and it will depend very much on who manages to choose the best strategy and who manages to get the most out of their boats.”
“We're all very even right now, so it's difficult to say at this point who might take the leg. I think that we are all on a very equal level and I think that we've all got a good chance,” he added.
Joca Signorini is of the same opinion: “Right now any of the four top boats in the overall standings could reach Galway with a chance of winning the regatta.”
That's why the aim of “Telefónica”, in the words of the Brazilian is “to sail a good leg and to at least reach the top three, regardless of the position of the other boats, as it would allow us to continue to lead in the overall standings.”
Chance of a record?
For many crew members we are facing the one of the best legs of the Volvo Ocean Race, something that one of sailing's most experienced international round the world sailors agrees with, watch leader on “Telefónica”, Neal McDonald. On this fifth round the world regatta for McDonald, “often some of the best sailing is seen on this leg.”
He also remembers that the Atlantic crossings have thrown up many records in the past and the same could also happen on this leg. “I don't know what will happen this time but there's a very good chance of going very fast.”
Xabi Fernández, trimmer
We are really looking forward to doing the leg and to try to get back in the fight at the front and to some good handling. Yesterday was really tough for us, but we're looking forward to setting off today and we're focussing on the fact that the other offshore legs up to now have gone well and this one can also go that way.
Neal McDonald, watch leader
We'll be getting a bit of everything. The leg will start off very hot and then at another point it will be cold and very windy, so in terms of conditions and the weather this is a very open leg. As with all Atlantic crossings, this is like three legs in one: cold, very wet, hot, windy, and there's also a chance that we could even get ice at some point on the leg... a good mix.
Joca Signorini, watch leader
This will be a more classic transatlantic crossing than it might have seemed a few days ago because the weather has changed a bit. We are hoping to hit some strong winds in two or three days' time and the forecasts are putting us at Lisbon in about ten to twelve days. We hope we can keep up the consistently good results seen in our other offshore legs. The boat is well, the crew too and we're all looking forward to getting back to Europe.
For the first time in this regatta, my wife Lotta and my daughter Sandra who was born in February will be coming to meet me. I hope we make it there quickly and at a good hour so that they can be on the quayside waiting for me, which will make finishing at Lisbon very special for me indeed.
PROVISIONAL OVERALL STANDINGS. Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.
1. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), 165 points
2. Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas), 158 points
3. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), 152 points
4. Puma powered by Berg (Ken Read), 151 points
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), 74 points
6. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), 27 points
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