At 14:00 h local time in Cape Town, the Spanish boat, skippered by Xabi Fernández, began one of the most long-awaited legs of the round-the-world race, at the front of the fleet. The Volvo Ocean race boats are due to face winds of over 40 knots, freezing temperatures and huge waves over the decks, as they head into the fearful Southern Ocean for the 6300 miles of leg three to Melbourne.
It was an intense start for the fleet on leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race in Cape Town. Crossing the start line in 25 knots of wind, the fleet firstly sailed a short coastal race, before setting off to face the first of the Southern Ocean legs. 6300 miles lay before the Volvo Ocean Race fleet en route to Melbourne, Australia, through one of the most inhospitable parts of the planet, and in some of the most extreme conditions on earth.
After an emotional send-off from the docks, the Race Committee began the race at 14:00 h local time (13:00 h in Spain), from the race course set exactly opposite the Cape Town Race Village. Having sailed a shorter and simpler windward-leeward route than usual, (just three legs due to particularly strong wind conditions), after 30 minutes the fleet were already en route to the Southern Ocean.
The MAPFRE crew, skippered by Basque sailor Xabi Fernández, were well aware of the importance of leaving at the front of the pack from the very start, ensuring a good position in the first few miles of the leg. As the fleet lined up to jostle for the best spot at the start line, the Spanish boat was able to set off at the front alongside Dongfeng Race Team, Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Team Brunel, all fighting to be among the first to round the top mark.
The Chinese team arrived first, followed by Xabi Fernández’s crew in second, and Bouwe Bekking’s team in third. MAPFRE gradually closed in on Charles Caudrelier’s team, until just after completing the three legs of the coastal route, where they were finally able to pass Dongfeng and leave Cape Town in first place.
The fleet are now heading south, towards the Cape of Good Hope, and it won’t be until rounding Cape Agulhas when they will begin to move south-eastwards; their sights set on the Roaring Forties.
Awaiting the first front
After an intense beginning to the leg in typical southern conditions, the fleet will still need to face a transition before they can jump into the characteristic frontal conditions and head fully into the fearful Southern Ocean. If predictions are correct, MAPFRE should reach the first low pressure system on Wednesday, where they are expected to find winds of between 40 and 45 knots, and waves of over eight metres. The decision whether to round the front or cross it, will be one of the major strategic options of the leg.
Earlier today, Joan Vila, MAPFRE’s navigator, explained,
“Sailing around a front often means having to complete too many miles, and it really depends on just how far you have to go to avoid the area of strong winds. Sometimes it is worth going into it, and taking your foot off the accelerator a little. If we don’t have to make too long a journey to round it, we will try to avoid it as much as we can.”
However, the 6300 miles separating Cape Town from Melbourne will clearly be intense. The fleet is expected to take about two weeks to complete the route, where their day-to-day routine will involve the cold, strong winds, and huge waves typical of the Southern Ocean. One of the most long-awaited legs of this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 is on its way.
IN THEIR WORDS…
Joan Vila, navigator
In four days’ time we will come up against our first frontal system. The latest data we have, shows that it will be quite an active low pressure system, and we may have winds of up to 45 knots. It will be a large storm, particularly because of the sea state; some of the weather models are showing waves of up to eight metres, or even a little more.
Pablo Arrarte, watch captain
The first 10 or 12 hours will be the toughest. We have upwind conditions and a lot of wind, possible up to 35 knots, and there is likely to be quite large waves, so it will be quite a busy start. But we have already been through this before, and we have been training with these kinds of conditions. It is just another upwind route, and we will have to take care, but the trickier part will come from Wednesday night onwards, and up to next Sunday, when we will meet a very strong front with between 40 and 45 knots. We will have to sail conservatively so we don’t break anything.
Willy Altadill, trimmer/helmsman and second boat captain
I have only been in the Southern Ocean once, and everything you do is done much more calmly. You think everything through twice, because it can be extremely costly if you make a bad move, handle a manoeuvre wrongly, or something breaks. It is a cold ocean, with strong winds, and from time to time you see an albatross. People tell many stories about the South, but for me it is just another place we sail in, with nothing at all on the horizon. It is like being in a desert of water.
Támara Echegoyen, trimmer
We are all anxious to get sailing in the Southern Ocean, on this long leg which is both feared and loved by all the sailors. This time it is going to be quite tough, because we are starting in strong upwind conditions, which is not as comfortable as downwind. The team is ready to take on the challenge, and I am really looking forward to seeing what happens in the Southern Ocean.
MAPFRE CREW FOR LEG 3
Xabi Fernández (ESP)
Joan Vila (ESP)
Pablo Arrarte (ESP)
Rob Greenhalgh (GBR)
Louis Sinclair (NZL)
Blair Tuke (NZL)
Willy Altadill (ESP)
Támara Echegoyen (ESP)
Sophie Ciszek (USA/AUS)
Jen Edney (USA). *OBR= on board reporter
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION VOLVO OCEAN RACE 2017-18
- MAPFRE (ESP, Xabi Fernández), 14 points
- Vestas 11th Hour Racing (USA/DEN, Charlie Enright), 13 points
- Dongfeng Race Team (CHN, Charles Caudrelier), 11 points
- Team AkzoNobel (NED, Simeon Tienpont), 7 points
- Team Brunel (NED, Bouwe Bekking), 6 points
- Sun Hung Kai Scallywag (HKG, David Witt), 5 points
- Turn The Tide on Plastic (Naciones Unidas, Dee Caffari), 2 points