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MAPFRE & Dongfeng complete Leg 1 podium in the Volvo Ocean Race

by Volvo Ocean Race on 28 Oct 28 October 2017

Vestas 11th Hour Racing have won Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race, crossing the finish line in the River Tagus in Lisbon, Portugal, to complete the 1,870 nautical mile leg in light winds on Saturday afternoon.

The win was a tremendous victory for American skipper Charlie Enright and his team, who earned 8 points for their efforts (including a one point 'bonus' for winning the leg).

It wasn't easy. The wind shut down on the final approach, and an early morning lead of 34-nautical miles over second-placed MAPFRE was soon whittled down to 10-miles. The finish line was in sight, but the current in the river was pushing the boat back out to sea in some of the lulls, so much so that the team considered anchoring.

But the crew on the Vestas boat held their nerve, tacking first up and then down, zigzagging towards the line, into agonisingly light headwinds, and finally securing victory with MAPFRE in turn just starting to slow down, still some 9-miles back.

"We have a long way to go certainly, but this was a good way to start," said skipper Charlie Enright. "SiFi (navigator Simon Fisher) did a great job. He didn't really make any missteps... But every (results) sked is nerve-wracking, especially when you're stuck in a river going backwards!

"But we pride ourselves on not getting too high or too low and I think we executed that on this leg... It's about having confidence in ourselves and committing to the process and now we're starting to see the results of that."

The winners weren't the only team to have an excruciating finish experience. When MAPFRE was within 1.5 miles of the line, they too ran out of wind and had to watch Dongfeng Race Team rush into the river behind them. With only a small lead as a buffer, the tension for Spanish fans was rising fast.

But as Vestas did before them, the MAPFRE crew found a little zephyr of wind to finish 15-minutes ahead of the Chinese team.

"Very pleased with the result. It's a solid start, exactly what we wanted. We're very happy," said Xabi Fernández, the skipper of MAPFRE immediately after finishing. "We have to say Vestas did very well early on and we didn't see them again... But then we had a strong 12-hours after Gibraltar and we stepped it up there."

The experience and desire of the MAPFRE crew was on full display in the 30+ knot winds they had pushing out of the Mediterranean on the second night. Fernández and his team put in more manoeuvres than the rest of fleet to stay in a narrow band of strong winds and emerged from the experience in the second place slot they would never relinquish.

Dongfeng Racing Team skipper Charles Caudrelier made an excellent recovery on Leg 1, needing to scratch and claw for every inch, after falling to the back of the fleet on the approach to Gibraltar. And fight they did, slowly reeling in the fleet and finally recovering to pass team AkzoNobel with only 220 miles to go, to complete the podium.

"It was very difficult and complicated," Caudrelier said. "The weather was often different from the forecast so that was interesting."

Fourth place went to team AkzoNobel. The rest of the fleet is due to finish late on Saturday evening.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing completed Leg 1 in 6 days, 2 hours, 8 minutes and 45 seconds.

Leg 1 results as at Saturday 28 October 17:00 UTC

1. Vestas 11th Hour Racing - FINISHED 14:08.45 UTC
2. MAPFRE - FINISHED 16:42.30 UTC
3. Dongfeng Race Team - FINISHED 16:57:48 UTC
4. team AkzoNobel +1.8nm
5. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag +8.7nm
6. Team Brunel +33.6nm
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic +34.3nm

MAPFRE, runners-up in Leg 1

At 18:42h today, the Spanish team competing in the round-the-world race, the VO65 MAPFRE, finished Leg One of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-2018. Skippered by Olympic champion Xabi Fernández, from the Basque country, and with Catalan navigator Joan Vila, considered one of the best navigators in the world, the crew of MAPFRE claimed second place in a hard-fought first leg. The team battled hard, and with the necessary consistency, to come back and above all, not let go of their second place.

As predicted, and similar to the last two editions of the race with arrivals in Lisbon (2011-12 y 2014-15), the last few miles of the course were painfully slow due to a drastic drop in wind conditions. As such, on reaching the Portuguese coast the leaders of the pack, were forced to watch how distances ahead of MAPFRE and the rest of the fleet dropped as they approached the finish line. However, the team had clocked up a decent few miles advantage in their favour, and nerves on board remained calm.

It was likewise a neck-and-neck arrival for MAPFRE in second place and Dongfeng in third. At just over half a mile to the finish line, and with a speed of four knots (7.3 km/h), the team were made to grit their teeth, whilst Charles Caudrelier's crew advanced at double the speed. The two teams soon had their bowmen at the top of the mast searching for a sight of the slightest breeze.

MAPFRE remained calm, and with a sound Pablo Arrarte at the helm. After a frustratingly scarce three knots of wind speed, conditions finally picked up to five knots, and the team were able to cross the finish line at 18:42h Spanish time.

Xabi Fernández (ESP), Skipper, said: "It was a complicated leg, as we were expecting. The Mediterranean was particularly tricky, and we then had several situations where we were forced to take a few risks. The result has been excellent for us, and satisfied our objective to finish up front."

"We always say that the shortest legs are harder than the longer ones. This was a sprint lasting nearly seven days, where we saw a little bit of everything: light winds, heavy winds, manoeuvres."

"There are very good sailors on all the boats, and with a lot of experience. We are all going to have good and bad legs, so it is important to make very few mistakes and to take it step by step. Vestas had a great leg; in Cabo de Gata they made the right decision, and we didn't see them again. Congratulations to the winners! We are now ready to go for the next one."

Támara Echegoyen (ESP), trimmer, recalled, "It was tougher than I expected because even though I knew it wasn't going to be as long as the second leg, there were the Straits to contend with, and a lot of manoeuvres, so we hardly got any rest."

"It has been a great experience, especially to know that I will be ready for everything that lies ahead. Now it's time to enjoy our second place, which is a really good result for the team. We have been talking about being regular in our results, so this is good for us. I am now going to enjoy a bed, a shower, and the few day's rest we have in Lisbon."

Pablo Arrarte (ESP), Watch captain, said, "Leaving the Mediterranean was quite complicated. There were a few pretty tough moments, because there were areas of calm, and the prediction didn't show that, but finally we managed to leave in third place, quite close to AkzoNobel."

"We kept fighting mile by mile, our first goal was to catch AkzoNobel and for Dongfeng to be a little behind us, and we finally managed it. It was a tough leg, but we are very happy.

We still have the same spirit that we left Alicante with, and hope to keep it up."

Joan Vila (ESP), navigator, said, "It was a short but intense leg. We were looking for the right options to get ahead, but also keeping an eye on those behind us. There were lots of areas without wind, and a few tough days, but finally it all worked out."

"Conditions at the end were really light, and we knew that the chasing boats could be on top of us at any moment, but we had the advantage that with the narrowness of the river there wasn't a lot of margin. It is a shame that we arrived in such light wind, but that is racing; it isn't over until its over, as they say."

"The team make everything really easy for me, and it is one of the great advantages of sailing with MAPFRE. I felt really good, and remembered how this was, so I'm now looking forward to a longer leg. It was a good aperitif and training opportunity for the next few longer legs."

Dongfeng Race Team complete impressive come-back to score valuable podium spot

The celebrations were low-key on Charles Caudrelier's Dongfeng as the Chinese red and white Volvo Ocean 65 crept across the finish line to claim a valuable third place in Leg 1 of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race today.

Third place on the 1,650-nautical mile leg from Alicante to Lisbon may not have been what Caudrelier had in mind when he set sail with his well-drilled mixed male and female international crew seven days ago.

But given that the boat had slipped to seventh and last place at one point during the early stages of a leg that saw everything from 30 knots to flat calms, getting up to finish on the podium behind leg winner Vestas 11th Hour Racing and second-placed MAPFRE, was a good result.

An exhausted but happy Caudrelier congratulated his team on what he called a "good effort" minutes after Dongfeng docked at the official Race Village in the Portuguese capital.

The Frenchman revealed that he and his crew had to contend with a series of setbacks including two collisions. "We had a very good start and a very good first afternoon with good speed, but we hit something at the end of that day and after that we had a big problem with the speed," he said.

"Everybody came back on us and passed us on the left and the right. We were quite slow and after that we started to make bad decisions because when you are slow it does not always make you clever."

Caudrelier added that in the critical hours after exiting the Gibraltar Strait Dongfeng had another collision, this time with a big fish which required the crew to back the boat up to free it from the keel.

"After that the speed was back and we managed to keep coming back, but the weather was quite complicated and we had some up and downs but we managed to keep coming back with good speed," explained Caudrelier.

Bowman Jack Bouttell said it had been an exhausting race. "It was a hard leg with a lot of sail changes and a lot of manoeuvres," he said. "The last couple of days it was changing sails every few hours and interrupted sleep which is pretty hard work."

He revealed that early in the leg a fitting ripped out of the foredeck, requiring running repairs to stop an ingress of water. "We basically ripped one of the deck fittings out of the deck lines, so we had a hole of about 10 millimetres. When we were going downwind quite fast there was a lot of water coming into the boat so we temporarily patched it and then repaired it the next day when we had light winds. It was all good in the end with a nice repair," he said.

The French Vendee Globe star Jeremie Beyou enjoyed his first proper racing in the Volvo Ocean Race and noticed the intensity with which he and his colleagues sailed at all hours of the day and night.

"It is very different to the Vendee Globe," he said. "In that race you manage yourself throughout the race and you know you can't be 100% all of the time so you try to push when you need to but know that sometimes you need to go a bit slower. In the Volvo Ocean Race it is 100% all of the time and if you do not perform at that level then you will lose metres and then you lose places.

"Maybe at the beginning of the race we weren't 100% and the other boats were," he added. "We came out of the Mediterranean last but even then nobody gave up and every trimmer and every driver did a very good job to make the boat go fast. Metre after metre we gained one place, then two places then three places and finished third which I think is good when you see where we were earlier in the race."

Fellow crewmate and French national Marie Riou said she is now ready for Leg 2 from Lisbon to Cape Town, after a little recovery time in Lisbon. "I need to have some rest but I am ready to do a longer leg," she said. "No nerves at the moment, just excited now."

Like Riou, Chinese sailor Chen Jinhao, also known as Horace, is already looking forward to the next big test in the Atlantic. "It was very exciting when we finished in third place and I am now really looking forward to the next leg and what we can do together," he said.

"We had a few difficult moments when we lost a good position, but this is what the Volvo Ocean Race is all about and we have to learn to cope with it. I already feel like we are stronger and more of a unit than in the last race, but we have to remember that the other teams are tougher too so, of course, the fight to win will be much more difficult."

Fourth place finish for team AkzoNobel

The team AkzoNobel crew, led by Simeon Tienpont, crossed the finish line in the Tagus river adjacent to the Volvo Ocean Race Village at 1811 UTC (2011 CEST) this evening – six days, six hours and 11 minutes since leaving Alicante on October 22.

It was an impressive performance, especially since team AkzoNobel sailed the leg with one fewer sailors than the six other teams. Tienpont was quick to pay tribute to his crew's gutsy never-say-die performance.

"We were pleased to be out there racing and after the start we just all did our thing. We trusted in the way we had set the boat up and we proved we could pass people.

"Rosco [Ross Monson] did an amazing job of getting us out of the Mediterranean with a bit of a head start, which helped given we were one short.

"Once we got to the third night, we just kept pushing hard and everyone had to step up with longer driving and longer trimming. But now we are very happy with our fourth place – it's a very good result."

After completing the short inshore section of the course in Alicante on Sunday October 22 in seventh place, a bold breakaway move by reserve navigator Ross Monson (GBR) in the early hours of Monday morning saw team AkzoNobel and Vestas 11th Hour Racing break from the pack to find better breeze close to the Spanish coast.

The move saw these two boats emerge as the frontrunners and the pair led the fleet through the Gibraltar Strait that evening and out across the Atlantic towards the first turning mark in the 3,463-kilometer course – the Madeiran Atlantic island of Porto Santo.

Team AkzoNobel became engaged in a tactical battle for second place with Spanish crew Mapfre which lasted the entire way to Porto Santo. The two crews traded positions several times before Mapfre gained the upper hand shortly before the turn and rounded ahead but with team AkzoNobel close astern, just before dawn on Thursday, October 26.

By the next turning mark Vestas 11th Hour and Mapfre had pulled ahead and the team AkzoNobel sailors now found themselves under threat from Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team.

The final section of the course to the finish line in Lisbon was a straight-line speed race that saw team AkzoNobel eventually succumb today (Saturday, October 28) to a prolonged attack by Dongfeng Race Team.

The team AkzoNobel crew chased hard all the way to the end of the leg, but eventually had to settle for fourth place at the finish, an hour and 14 minutes behind the Chinese boat.

Summing up the mood of the crew, watch captain Nicolai Sehested said:

"It's a result that we have to be happy with. As a crew, we always want more – but this is a good result to build on for the rest of the race."

The team AkzoNobel sailors now have less than a week to rest and recuperate before their next competitive outing, the Lisbon in port race on Friday, November 3. Two days later they will set off from Lisbon on the 12,964-kilometer second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, bound this time for Cape Town, South Africa.

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