The leg is expected to be a three-day battle for the VO65s racing to The Hague, with their ETA predicted to be on Sunday. The close to 1000-mile sprint will mean a true test of resistance for the seven teams, where a cool-headed attitude will be essential to squeeze the most out of each different option.

© Maria Muiña I MAPFRE. Leg 11 start from Gothenburg. Salida de la etapa 11 a Gotemburgo

The final leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 kicked off today, Thursday 21st June, from Gothenburg. MAPFRE left the dock at midday and headed out to the start line to dispute the very last leg of this edition of the round-the-world race; the 13th in its history, and one which will be remembered as the very first time ever that three boats are tied even with the same chances of victory, where all the stakes ride on the last 1000-mile sprint, and which will decide the best team after sailing almost 46,000 nautical miles.

“It is going to be a really complicated leg, with many wind shifts, and a lot of transitions and boat-handling, so we are expecting it be busy and intense. The leg is just three days’ long, and we obviously can’t go three days without sleeping, although we will be sleeping as little as possible, to try to push the boat to its maximum,” explained Pablo Arrarte, the team’s watch captain from Cantabria, just before docking out from Gothenburg.

© Maria Muiña I MAPFRE. Leg 11 start from Gothenburg. Salida de la etapa 11 a Gotemburgo

Adjö Gotemburgo!
The fleet were given a punctual start at 14:00 h to head into the last leg of the round-the-world race with a wind of 15 knots, and a big swell, although conditions are expected to calm over the next couple of days, and the boats may even find particularly calm conditions as they arrive in the Hague.

No initial windward-leeward route for the teams this time, so once the fleet were across the start line, they left the Gothenburg canal, rounded the Gaveskar mark and then it was each to their own for the seven VO65s. Shortly after rounding the mark the fleet began to tack northwards, with Brunel in first place followed by MAPFRE and Vestas.

Two hours after the start, at 16:00h, the whole fleet were within a compact group, separated by barely a mile, and with a main split dividing them into two clear packs. One further east made up of Dongfeng, Scallywag, Vestas and Turn the Tide on Plastic, and the other to the west, with MAPFRE, AkzoNobel and Brunel.

© Maria Muiña I MAPFRE. Leg 11 start from Gothenburg. Salida de la etapa 11 a Gotemburgo

A maze-like leg
It is indeed a short leg compared to what we have been used to,” explained the team skipper Xabi Fernández joking, “but it isn’t the 100-metre sprint, it is a true obstacle course.”

As team navigator Joan Vila describes, the first stages of the leg, will be a true “maze”, taking the fleet northwards and upwind to the Baltic Sea, where they must pass a mark close to Norway. From then on, the VO65s will sail down again to round another compulsory mark situated off Aarhus in Denmark, and which they are expected to reach on Friday afternoon.

Once they have passed the mark, MAPFRE will once again have to head up and round the northern tip of Denmark, before heading west to enter the North Sea and on towards the Hague. However a whole number of exclusion zones are included on the route, as Vila explains,

In the area of the North Sea  particularly we will have exclusion zones as we head down to the Hague. There are both exclusion zones and traffic separation areas, which are quite long following the whole north coast of Germany towards northern Holland. Moreover, there are also exclusion zones because of the oil platforms or wind farms at sea.”

Finally, wind conditions are expected to drop, “and we may even have a complete calm for the arrival,” predicts Joan Vila, “I hope that there won’t be too much of that at the end, although we have seen that sometimes these kinds of conditions have played out well for us.

It is a matter of waiting three days to see just how the race unfolds.

Xabi Fernández (ESP), skipper
Joan Vila (ESP), navigator
Rob Greenhalgh (GBR), watch captain
Pablo Arrarte (ESP), watch captain
Antonio “Ñeti” Cuervas-Mons (ESP), bowman
Willy Altadill (ESP), trimmer/helmsman
Blair Tuke (NZL), trimmer/helmsman
Sophie Ciszek (AUS/USA), bowman
Támara Echegoyen (ESP), trimmer
*Ugo Fonollá(ESP), on board reporter

VOLVO OCEAN RACE 2017-18 – OVERALL after 10 legs
1. MAPFRE (ESP, Xabi Fernández), 65 points
2. Team Brunel (NED, Bouwe Bekking), 65 points
3. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN, Charles Caudrelier), 64 points
4. Team AkzoNobel (NED, Simeon Tienpont), 53 points
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (USA/DEN, Charlie Enright), 38 points
6. Sun Hung Kai Scallywag (HKG, David Witt), 30 points
7. Turn The Tide on Plastic (Naciones Unidas, Dee Caffari), 29 points