The democratic skipper, the permissive skipper, the skipper who practices what he preaches, the skipper who asks for something, and it happens because he is the first to do whatever is necessary. Respected, admired and loved, both as a skipper and as a person. The Volvo Ocean Race has finished, and we speak to Xabi Fernández, THE SKIPPER.

Xabi Fernández celebrates the 2nd position in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 at his arrival in The Hague © Maria Muiña/MAPFRE

How was your first night home ashore after finishing the Volvo Ocean Race?
Good. It is a little strange. Arrival day was tough, the next day was a little better, and today is better still. We know we had a really good campaign, and we should be happy, but it is hard when it slips from out of your hands, having been so close. I think we will gradually start to feel better.

The last leg was really played out on just one card. 45,000 miles around the world, and everything decided in the last 800 you might say. What was it like living with that pressure, and how did the team respond?
As always, really well. It was actually one of the best legs we sailed, until of course we made a decision that didn’t work out. But, we were really, really close. If the wind had been in the direction it should have been, we would have been ahead, but of course there are things that are very difficult to control. However, we went from being behind to ahead, we caught and passed Dongfeng a couple of times, and we had a really wonderful battle, despite the result.

The crew had an incredible marathon over the three days, and nobody took their boots off. They were really good.

How correct were the weather reports for this leg?
The weather reports weren’t wrong. The fact that the wind is 320º instead of 340º doesn’t mean that the reports are wrong, because they are never exact. However, when you are measuring a race by just one mile above or below, it is really important, but it doesn’t mean you can blame the weather files for sending you somewhere else. In other legs, such as in the Doldrums in the Pacific, it is true that you can’t trust anything, but here it wasn’t a problem.

How do you feel about MAPFRE’s second place in the round-the-world race?
Well, I think it is really good both as a team, as it is for me personally. We finished the race here in The Hague, with everyone we started with in Alicante, both the shore crew, and the sailing team, and that is a huge achievement. We have had a really good time sailing, and the overall feeling about our result is very good.

Xabi at his arrival in The Hague © María Muiña/MAPFRE

What would you say to the people who have been continuously asking why MAPFRE didn’t make any crew changes?
Live and let live, and that each team organizes itself as it feels is best. In our team we have a couple of reserve, who are really good, but in the end the main team was fit and really motivated, so why change them?

Fatigue does begin to accumulate, but it is also true that in the stopovers you rest well, and you get ready for the coming leg. I think that the mistakes we might have made during the race were not due to fatigue or because there weren’t any crew changes. The truth is that nobody wanted to step down from the boat, and everyone was really motivated. This race went well all the way around the world, and that helped people to stay positive.

On arrival in The Hague your team mate Pablo Arrarte, the watch captain, said that this was “without a doubt” the best round-the-world campaign ever. Do you agree?
I also think that it has been the best campaign we have done since we began with Movistar in 2005, then we had two campaigns with Telefónica and MAPFRE in the last edition.

We prepared this campaign really well, and trained a balanced team. We won three of the legs, and had the chance to win the race right up until the last day. I think it is due to the hard work we put in, and for the team we had, so I do think that it has been the best campaign we have done to date.

Xabi Fernández and Bouwe Bekking after having finished the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 © María Muiña/MAPFRE

In the skipper’s press conference in Gothenburg, you didn’t hesitate when asked if you would do another ‘Volvo Ocean Race,’ saying you would start the day after finishing this one. Do you still feel the same?
I will definitely try again. I don’t know when, or with who, but yes, I think so.

In the end we like this more than we actually say, and this ‘Volvo’ has gone really well. It hasn’t been like others where you get to the end with a greater feeling of wanting it to finish. This time we finished feeling that if we had had one more leg, we could have had another chance. So if we can, we will do it again.

In the last leg, on the second day, Willy Altadill said in a video that as well as MAPFRE, if there was a team that deserved to win the race it was Dongfeng. Do you feel the same?
Yes I agree, but the truth is that whoever it is that wins, deserves it. After nine months of racing you can’t say that somebody deserves a win less than another. It is like in football. After 38 games, the team that wins is the team that should win; you don’t say that in the third day they’d had a penalty or not, because all the teams have had penalties. It is the same for us. We have had problems, perhaps some more than others, but if a team were so deserving of the victory, they would have won the race before the last leg, as would we, and that means it was really, really close.

Dongfeng had a really good campaign like us, with prior preparation and a really solid crew. Their focus was more on crew rotations and ours was not, but we have been fighting with them in all the legs. Brunel then joined the battle, and shared the lead, yet in the last leg they weren’t as strong.

What are the Xabi Fernández’s plans now?
To go home, rest and recharge my batteries, and we will see what the future holds.