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Dongfeng leads the fleet away as Volvo Ocean Race Leg 1 starts

by Volvo Ocean Race 22 Oct 2017 17:14 BST 22 October 2017

Conditions couldn't have been better for the start in Alicante, Spain on Sunday afternoon. The fleet of seven of the best sailing teams in the world started Leg 1, a 1,450 nautical mile sprint to Lisbon, Portugal in bright sunshine and a 15-20 knot Easterly breeze.

The bay off the Alicante sea front was crowded with hundreds of spectator boats, ringing a short inshore race course, before the fleet was free to fly off, downwind, towards Gibraltar.

They were treated to some of the most intense racing ever seen in the opening minutes of a Volvo Ocean Race. The highlight came on the approach to the final turning mark before leaving the bay, when Dongfeng Race Team came screaming in on a collision course with Team Brunel and MAPFRE, both of whom were forced into a quick gybe to avoid the right of way Chinese boat.

Separated by less than a meter at times, as they went through their manoeuvres, the on water Umpires judged neither Brunel nor MAPFRE had kept sufficiently clear and penalised both, pushing them back down the fleet.

"This is going to be such a close race, every meter counts," Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier had said before the start. "We know we will be fighting all the way to the finish."

After winning round one of the fight, Dongfeng then sped off with the lead, with Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Turn the Tide on Plastic in close pursuit. All three would thread their way through the spectator fleet, at times within an arm's length of the astonished guests, before finding a clear passage out to sea.

Before racing started, the intensity and drama played out dockside, with team AkzoNobel submitting its final crew list just ahead of the dockout time.

The team has been in flux since it was announced one week ago that original skipper Simeon Tienpont had left the team and had been replaced by watch captain Brad Jackson.

But on Friday evening, Tienpont won an arbitration judgement allowing him to return to the team and just hours before start time, the team submitted an updated crew list with Tienpont leading a newly constituted squad. Jackson, as well as previous navigator Jules Salter, are not on the boat.

"I am relieved to be back with my team and excited to be getting our Volvo Ocean Race campaign underway," Tienpont said in a statement thanking Jackson as well as Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, who agreed to let António Fontes race with the AkzoNobel crew for Leg 1.

With the start behind them, the teams will settle into the routine of life at sea, as they begin the first leg of what will be a 45,000 nautical mile race around the planet. The intensity shown during the first hour of the first leg, when the fight was for every meter, demonstrates just how competitive this Volvo Ocean Race will be.

The ultimate test of these teams has started.

MAPFRE leads the fleet, starting the Volvo Ocean Race (from MAPFRE)

The big day finally arrived, and right on schedule, at 14:00h Leg One of the Volvo Ocean Race kicked off in Alicante, with MAPFRE ready to give their absolute all to get to the front of the fleet from the very first minute. After an initial coastal race in front of Postiguet Beach in Alicante, the Spanish boat, skippered by Xabi Fernández, began to head south through the Mediterranean en route to Lisbon, in second place with a speed of 16 knots.

Emotional send-off for MAPFRE in Alicante

Prior to the boat leaving the dock this morning, the shore team and sailing crew met for the last time at the Alicante team base, with the President and Vice-President of MAPFRE Antonio Huertas and Antonio Núñez, José Ramón Lete, the Secretary of State for Sport, Pedro Campos, the team director, and His Majesty the King Juan Carlos, who shared words of support and encouragement to the team before the start of the great challenge of the round-the-world race.

Following the team parade, the family, friends, followers and now notorious red tide of Ñetifans swamped the dock to provide a notably warm and emotional send-off for the team, including great shows of affection, songs and encouragement for every one of the crew members present; a genuine, and very welcome way to begin the race, for Xabi Fernández and his team, after ten intense days in Alicante.

"The day has finally arrived. We are really happy with this send-off from Alicante, with the feeling that we have prepared to the very best of our abilities, and will now see if it turns out well," declared Xabi Fernández, just minutes before leaving the dock, and whose words were echoed by Galician sailor Támara Echegoyen,

"All of us can't wait to jump on board, and to be able to do our job, to get into the routine, and leave the nerves and emotion of the start behind us. Now we can do what we most love, which is to sail the Volvo Ocean Race, and be able to give our very best, for all of our supporters, who are giving us so much encouragement."

New Zealand sailor Blalir Tuke, also making his début in the race, was clearly thrilled and determined to give his absolute all on board MAPFRE,

"It's an amazing atmosphere. I'm part of a great team, and I feel ready to go for it, ready to race around the world."

According to the official Race Organisation data, 40,000 people visited the Alicante Race Village this morning, with 10,000 spectators in situ watching the start of the round-the-world race.

The action begins

Leg One of the Volvo Ocean Race has begun for the fourth consecutive edition from Alicante, and in perfect conditions. A north-easterly wind of between 17-18 knots, enabled the fleet to complete the coastal race in just over an hour, five laps of a windward-leeward course, before heading to Lisbon.

MAPFRE, in one of the most favoured positions at the start, opted for the left side of the race course, and covered the first lap in first place. A battle swiftely ensued for the lead between the Spanish boat, Brunel and Dongfeng, alternating at the top spot.

With the three teams lined up sailing in close proximity, Xabi Fernández's team and the crew led by Bouwe Bekking, were given a penalty for not maintaining sufficient space from the leewardd boat. However, MAPFRE were not shaken, and it wasn't long before the Spanish team had made up the lost ground, and recovered their place at the front of the pack.

The fleet are currently sailing to Lisbon, having rounded Cabo de Palos, MAPFRE is in second place behind Dongfeng at a speed of 16 knots. The first 24 hours promise to be quite intense, with wind conditions between 11 and 16 knots, predicted to increase to up to 20-25 knots in the Straits, and 30 off the coast of Tarifa. The first transition will await the fleet as they get close to the Island of Porto Santo, with a compulsory rounding of the island before they head to the Portuguese capital.

The Start is Finally Here - Vestas 11th Hour Racing begin the Volvo Ocean Race (from Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

"The anticipation had been building since we finished the last edition and the start is finally here," said Mark Towill (USA), Team Director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing. The first ocean leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Alicante, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal started on Sunday. The 1450nm course will take the seven competing teams through the Strait of Gibraltar and around the small island of Porto Santo, close to Madeira, before heading directly to Lisbon.

Americans Charlie Enright and Towill have been working together on building a stronger team since their "young gun" team finished fourth in the last Volvo Ocean Race in 2015. "We won the last leg, and we rounded Cape Horn first, which were two huge milestones for us, and highlighted our growth as a team," said Skipper Enright. "So we took what we learned and surrounded ourselves with even more experience and talent." The 11-person crew of Vestas 11th Hour Racing boasts 23 Volvo Ocean Races and six wins in this grueling race.

"The depth of our crew is a huge asset to our team," continues Enright. That could not have been truer on Friday when the team had to swap two-time Volvo Ocean Race winner, Phil Harmer (AUS) for another Volvo Ocean Race winner, Damian Foxall (IRL), due to a medical issue. This exchange resulted in the need to also substitute Jena Hansen (DEN) for Hannah Diamond (UK) to comply with the safety rules that require two medics onboard.

Action in Alicante

Vestas 11th Hour Racing has been in Alicante since arriving from the Prologue Leg on the 11th of October. "It's always great to be in Alicante," said Australian sailor Tom Johnson, coming off his America's Cup campaign with Oracle Team USA. "The crowds and local support here are a great way to kick off the race."

As a new feature for this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, the public has access to all the team bases. The ground floor of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing base includes the Exploration Zone, a dedicated educational space, where the public can enjoy a hands-on experience to learn more about renewable energy and ocean health, through the means of wind and water. From virtual reality goggles to interactive displays, the space has been a favourite attraction among the visitors to the Race Village with over 1,000 people experiencing the Exploration Zone each day.

As part of the team's commitment to spreading the message of sustainability, sailors from Vestas 11th Hour Racing and local students met with a local environmental organization, Asociación De Naturalistas Del Sureste (ANSE). They toured their wooden sailing vessel, Else, equipped to monitor and protect endangered species, study pollution effects on plants and animals, and implement coastal restoration projects. Hannah Diamond was among the sailors who learned about ANSE's endeavors: "I was most surprised that here in the Mediterranean there are sperm whales that are bigger than our Volvo Ocean 65."

Ocean health and the global issue of plastic pollution were the themes of the Ocean Summit that took place in Alicante this week as well. Mark Towill presented as a keynote speaker, in the first of a series of seven throughout the race, reflecting on his personal experiences at sea - addressing a full house of event stakeholders and representatives from media, NGOs, government and the private sector.

The Start

The crew of Vestas 11th Hour Racing crossed the starting line at 1400 CET in a strong position for the Leg One in a steady 15-knot northeasterly breeze in the Bay of Alicante. The seven boats first rounded three in-shore marks in tight racing conditions with Vestas 11th Hour Racing battling it around in the top four positions the entire time. After one hour of inshore racing, including a penalty against Brunel and MAPFRE, Vestas 11th Hour Racing rounded the final mark in second place just 20 meters behind Dongfeng Racing. Now they are headed southwest towards the Strait of Gibraltar, 300nm away, expecting to arrive Monday night.

"You can't win the race going through Gibraltar, but you sure can lose it," says Simon Fisher, affectionately known as SiFi. "Between shipping, strong currents, and accelerating wind, the 30-mile stretch can be quite extreme." The recent Volvo Ocean Race winner has been devising a playbook of how to navigate the leg with the help of historical data and meteorological assistance from the team's title sponsor, Vestas.

"With over 60,000 wind turbines in 75 countries, we can provide the team with additional weather models based on historical data of how the wind will flow and funnel around in different areas," said Thomas Alsbirk, the Vestas meteorologist who joined the team in Alicante for navigational support.

Next Up

After exiting Gibraltar, the next milestone of the race will be rounding the Portuguese island of Porto Santo off Madeira, 480nm from Lisbon. The entire race is expected to take 6 to 7 days with the current weather forecast.

It will be an all-out sprint for the teams to put the first points on the board, because not only is there high-point scoring for finishes but also one bonus point shall be awarded to the winner of each Leg and to the lowest overall elapsed time for the Race.

"We are ready to go, the boat is packed, the gear is on the hook," said Stacey Jackson before leaving the dock. The Australian sailor embarking on her second Volvo continued "we're as prepared as we'll ever be and now we're ready to just get to it. One stopover down, 11 more to go."

Team Brunel start the Volvo Ocean Race (from Team Brunel)

Conditions couldn't have been better for the start in Alicante, Spain on Sunday afternoon.The fleet of seven of the best sailing teams in the world including Team Brunel started Leg 1, a 1,450 nautical mile sprint to Lisbon, Portugal in bright sunshine and a 15-20 knot Easterly breeze.

The bay off the Alicante sea front was crowded with hundreds of spectator boats, ringing a short inshore race course, before the fleet was free to fly off, downwind, towards Gibraltar.They were treated to some of the most intense racing ever seen in the opening minutes of a Volvo Ocean Race.

About four nautical mile out of the coast Gerd Jan Poortman, ambassador of the Volvo Ocean Race finish in The Hague jumped of the boat. Poortman, in the last race crew member of Team Brunel was excited afterwards.

Poortman: "The atmosphere on board was good. The communication was clear and I could see that everyone knows his place and task. Not everything might be the way they would like it at the start but there was no panic. These men and women are really in control. Bouwe already gives the responsibility to the youngsters on board. That's beautiful and good to see."