On Sunday 10th December, Leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 sets off from Cape Town. The Spanish team, skippered by Xabi Fernández, are preparing to deal with the extreme, harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean, enroute to Melbourne, Australia.

© María Muiña/MAPFRE

6300 miles of sailing in one of the most inhospitable parts of the planet. Tomorrow will see the start of one of the most long-awaited legs of this new edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. Starting in Cape Town (South Africa), and arriving in Melbourne (Australia), MAPFRE is ready to face a leg of brutally cold, wet conditions and the harsh winds of the Southern Ocean. After an absence of 12 years, one of the original Whitebread Round-the-World Race routes has once again been incorporated into the race, and moreover it is worth double the points.  As such, Basque skipper Xabi Fernández’s crew, are well aware that they will need to give their absolute all to arrive in Australia at the front of the fleet.

“This third leg is going to be important. Of course they all are, but this one is perhaps the most. On the one hand, it is worth double the points, and so we could start to see differences in the fleet, and on the other, we are going to be in the Southern Ocean, where we know things get tricky,” the team skipper explains, “It is important to try to keep a balance between pushing hard to try and win the leg, and also maintaining the boat in one piece. In the past, it has always been the Southern Ocean where there were the most problems, so we can not afford to get behind, because then it is really difficult to make a come-back. But we also know we have to be careful.”

Leg three is looking to be tricky from day one. The meteorological conditions are showing very strong winds in Cape Town, with over 30 knots of wind speed; promising a particularly tough start for the fleet. Finding the balance between pushing hard to be at the front for the first few miles, and looking after the material will be absolutely essential, and MAPFRE have their priorities  clear.

As Xabi explains, “In this Volvo we are seeing that the leg starts are really important, and it is very even. We will first sail a short course here in Cape Town, and with a lot of wind. Starting upwind in 30 knots has its difficulties, so the priority will be to ensure that nothing gets broken over the first few days. We will have to weigh up our priorities, between pushing to be at the front, and holding back, particularly with the  sails, because in upwind conditions they suffer a lot. We will need to find this balance, keeping an eye on our rivals, and without losing any distance, because it is much harder to make it up later.”

An extreme leg

This leg is without  a doubt, one of the most long-awaited of the race, and the favourite for the majority of offshore sailors. Even though many have already had first-hand experience of the toughness of the Southern Ocean, on board MAPFRE it will be a first for New-Zealander  Blair Tuke and for Galician sailor Támara Echegoyen.

“Sometimes uncertainty is your best ally, but at other times it is not the case. For me, everything is new, and it even takes me longer to pack my bag. I don’t know if I am putting in everything that I need, or if what I pack will be useless. We all know the Southern Ocean is cold and with a lot of wind, and when you think about it, you always imagine its difficulty, but I am really looking forward to this challenge, and especially to do it with MAPFRE”.

After leaving Cape Town, the fleet will need to get into position to jump onto the Southern winds, and start riding eastwards. The 6300 mile route to Melbourne will present extreme conditions; freezing temperatures and the huge waves of the Roaring forties crashing over the deck, will be the day-to-day existence for the fleet.

For MAPFRE, their aim is clear: staying ahead from the start, to get to Australia with options of victory, and as such to hold on to their general lead, even though Xabi Fernández’s team are well aware that it is no easy task. As well as being such a tough leg, it is worth double the points, and crossing the finish line in Melbourne in a good position is therefore even more important.

“Not only is this a tough leg per se, this year the leg has been assigned double points, so we have even more pressure to do a good job, and get as many points as we can. We don’t want to fall behind, so we can stay among the front runners throughout the Volvo”, explained Joan Vila, MAPFRE’s navigator.

According to predictions, it may take the fleet about two weeks to complete the route, with an estimated arrival date between 25th and 26th December.

“We don’t know if we will be spending christmas at sea. According to our calculations right now, the leg is looking like it will last about 15 or 16 days, so if everything goes well we might reach Australia on christmas day, or the day after,” explains Vila.