Rob Kothe speaks to the top Volvo Ocean Race skippers in Melbourne, Australia as they look back on an exhausting Southern Ocean leg.


An exhausting 6,500-mile Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) leg from Cape Town to Melbourne climaxed early on Christmas morning when Xabi Fernández and his Mapfre crew got what they wanted from Santa.

For the second time in a row, the Spanish boat staged a come-from-behind leg victory over the same boat in the same way. Again, it was Dongfeng Race Team they passed deep into the leg, being the most southerly boat when it mattered, this time to take the double points leg win.

Dockside in Melbourne Fernández said this to Rob Kothe “The Dongfeng team sailed fast and they sailed very well, but we really kept it close and we never gave up, we did not try anything crazy to try and overtake them, we waited very patiently, but when we had an opportunity we took it.

 
“Along the Antarctic Exclusion Zone (AEZ), we really played the shifts and we really pushed hard for 24 hours and we knew that was the real moment to try and overtake them.

“When the time came we stepped in front of them and applied even more pressure [gybing relentlessly to stay in the most pressure along the AEZ].

“Once we left the AEZ, we knew that the rich would get richer and, so it happened that we were able to stretch almost to 100 miles difference and that was the way we finished.”

Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng led for most of the leg “On the 20th, we made the mistake that cost us the lead, staying on a northerly heading for too long away from the AEZ,” Caudrelier said. “The thing is if you gybe too early you go back to the ice limit before you have the shift of the wind, so it was a danger. We pushed a bit too much and we lost the lead and the leg.”

The Dongfeng skipper provided this update on the broken canting keel ram, that is being replaced by the Boatyard. “The broken ram clearly had a manufacturing issue. It is an old fault, as we can see there is some rusting. It is a one design boat, so you cannot change anything or choose your piece so when it breaks it is annoying. These boats are strong, but this is a bit unfair because it is no-one’s fault. Yes, when you break a mast you can argue that maybe someone pushed too much but with the keel I know that we made no mistake and it is just something that happened.

“We are lucky because it could have happened three days earlier and it would have been a disaster, so I guess it happened at a good time. To win this race you must sail better than all the other teams, but you also must be free of these kinds of problems which does involve a little bit of luck for sure. If it happens at the wrong moment, then the race is over.”

From Charlie Enright, Vestas 11th Hour Racing, third into Melbourne: “The first 36 hours were tough, and we never really hit our stride in boat speed and made a few missteps going a more northerly route for too long. We hoped that taking a more favourable angle south would pay off, but we never caught the two red boats as we sailed to the ice exclusion zone.

“This fleet is too competitive to make any mistakes. One small hesitation like waiting to gybe for a few more miles can separate a podium finish and not. Decisiveness and sailing fast are simple and how teams win this race.”

Bouwe Bekking, Team Brunel: “A solid result, fourth, again we were maybe a bit on the conservative side.

“What do we have to do differently to get onto the podium? The million-dollar question. I think we are there, now the crew is settled in and we have proved that setting the race record so far for the longest distance as well in 24 hours, so I think just our confidence level is much higher and now it’s up to us, to put everything together.”

More mistakes from David Witt’s Sun Hung Kai/ Scallywag and Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic. Keen to avoid the first Southern Ocean front they both stayed well north and paid dearly, like young surfers pulling off the wave, they missed their ride. Simon Teinpont’s AkzoNobel caught the first big wave but got dumped, a damaging gybe left them mainsail free wallowing in the white water.

The same top four boats, finished this leg in the same order as last, but now with exhaustion writ large on their faces, time for good food and a static bunk before the fleet heads north, 6,000 nautical miles to Hong Kong on 2 January, 2018.

Caudrelier sums up: “I think we are all exhausted. It was a tough leg. Maybe I am getting old but sailing on these kinds of boats in the south, full of water all the time, is getting harder.

“But it is part of the Volvo, it gives everyone some incredible footage and it is part of the legend. If the race was not so tough then it would not be the Volvo Ocean Race but sometimes you think it is a bit ridiculous what we are doing but we are also here because the race is different than the other ones – more crazy, more long, more tough, more everything and that is why we love it, that is why we hate it, that is why we want to stop and then that is why we want to win it and keep coming back.”

Published Yachts and Yachting December 2017

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