Seven months after the start at Alicante, Spain, the ninth and final leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 kicked off today in Lorient, in Brittany, France, with Spanish boat “Telefónica” starting off on a very good footing indeed. Iker Martínez and his crew have been leading the fleet since the start after sailing an impeccable course between buoys some 31 minutes in length with a 30 second lead over second placed American boat “Puma” and a lead of one minute 47 seconds on “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand” in third. Following in their wake were “Abu Dhabi”, “Sanya” and local entry “Groupama”. All of the boats are now on an open course to Ireland.
Just before 13:00 local time and the fleet were positioned at the starting line with 13 knots of westerly breeze blowing. “Telefónica” looked for a position on the pin side and found it. At 13:02 sharp the starting gun fired and Martínez and his guys made a strong start on the first few moves of a leg covering some 550 miles which began with a course marked out with buoys of 6.5 nautical miles across six legs. The Spanish boat rounded every single buoy in the lead.
The second boat in the overall standings, American entry “Puma”, kept a firm grip on “Telefónica”, although the team weren't able to hold the Spanish boat back from stretching her lead at every mark. “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand” also made a good comeback after a penalty at the start and managed to take the final mark in third place.
A tough night...
Forecasts all point towards a tough first night, with a front likely to bring some strong winds with it and which the fleet will have to handle with care, with little room for sleeping. In the Team Telefónica team meeting this morning that was one of the matters in hand: how exactly to organise the crew on board for a leg set to take the boat some 40 hours to complete. “We talked about when we'd be able to get some rest, more or less and when we'd all have to be on deck. There are going to be very few areas on the course were we'll be able to rest,” said Pepe Ribes before docking out from Lorient. “We won't get much sleep, but we'll be able to sleep once we're in Galway,” added trimmer Xabi Fernández.
Strong winds, swell, and lots of low pressure as well as an exclusion zone to be avoided to the northwest of Brest due to the dense maritime traffic are all ingredients being added to the cocktail shaker for tonight's entertainment.
Pushing hard for the 30 points
After yesterday's in-port race it was very clear that the final overall standings for the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 will be decided at the final port of call. French boat “Groupama” has a comfortable lead but the other positions left on the podium are more hotly contested with the overall rankings very tight indeed: three boats, -“Telefónica”, “Puma” and “Camper”- are within just six points of one another.
“Apart from 'Groupama' who are in a good position, we're all stuck very close together,” said Xabi Fernández before starting the leg. “This is a very important leg in terms of podium positions. There's a good forecast and it's going to be a fast and very wet leg. These are going to be two days of intense racing for all of us, especially for ourselves, 'Camper' and 'Puma'”.
For “Telefónica” the leg is the last opportunity to add a fourth leg victory to their scoreboard, out of a possible nine and the crew have faith in the boat. Brazilian Joca Signorini, one of the team's watch leader, was clear about that: “We've prepared, we have faith in the boat and the fact that we're sailing the final leg with the same crew that left Alicante and we're the only boat to have done that, makes us very happy.”
At 15:00 UTC, “Telefónica” was leading the fleet followed by “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand” and “Puma”, 0.2 and 0.3 miles away. “Groupama” is in fourth place, whilst “Abu Dhabi” and “Sanya” are in fifth and sixth place respectively.
Iker Martínez, skipper.
The leg looks like it's going to be tough because we first have to sail a course here in Lorient and then we make our way round the Belle-Ille island and after that we cross the English Channel and make our way up to Galway with some wind forecasts which look very tough, so I'm sure we'll all be sailing all very close together. With the breeze getting stronger at a tricky point on the course, we'll have to be very careful and I think that it's going to be a really tough leg, especially tonight.
Pepe Ribes, boat captain.
We're really focussed. It's going to be a very important leg, short and intense with lots of wind shifts. It's going to be fairly quick because it looks like we'll be hitting Galway in 40 hours. We hope that we can climb back onto the podium. It's going to be a sprint to Galway with lots of points to play for and lots of rivals also looking to finish on the podium so it'll be a spectacular battle.
Xabi Fernández, trimmer.
The most recent legs were short and in terms of spares and material for repairs etc. we've lightened the load considerably. The boat is a lot lighter now. The crew are well and we've got the same line-up we started with in Alicante and we hope to finish in Galway with no injuries as we have up to now, and I think that'll be a real achievement.
Joca Signorini, watch leader
We're starting the final leg today and so it's an important day for us as we've worked very hard on this project. Despite the fact that this is a very short and fast leg the forecasts look set to make it a tough one this first tonight. Of course we all want to finish this race in a good position. We're pushing forward with the same philosophy as always, looking to make the best finish we can. We want to finish this regatta on the podium and we just have to see what will happen in the end. We're positive about this final leg.
PROVISIONAL RANKINGS LEG 9
LORIENT (FRANCE) – GALWAY (IRELAND): 550 miles
Day 1 – 15:00 UTC – 1st July 2012
1. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), 475.2 miles to finish
2. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), +0.2 miles
3. Puma Ocean Racing by Berg (Ken Read), +0.3 miles
4. Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas), +1 mile
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), +1.7 miles
6. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), +2 miles
PROVISIONAL OVERALL STANDINGS. Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.
1. Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas), 225 points
2. Puma powered by Berg (Ken Read), 200 points
3. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), 196 points
4. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), 194 points
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), 124 points
6. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), 40 points
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