The majority of the fleet have reached Melbourne after 6500 miles of the 3rd Leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Cape Town to Melbourne across the wild Southern Ocean. This stop-over is a short pit-stop which doesn’t allow the shore teams to work on the boats.
“We had to fight very hard for this victory,” skipper Xabi Fernández said moments after crossing the finish line. “There’s so much of the race to go. But for now it’s looking good and we’re very happy of course.”
The Southern Ocean pushed the teams to the limit. Extreme cold, storm force winds for days on end and towering seas posed massive seamanship challenges, let alone allowing for racing and tactics.
MAPFRE had the highest work rate in terms of manoeuvres, which allowed them to stay in more favourable conditions for longer than their opposition. It was a powerful statement by a very strong crew.
MAPFRE started Leg 3 already atop the leaderboard, with a one point lead over Leg 1 winner Vestas 11th Hour Racing. But as this first Southern Ocean challenge is worth double points, the team will now open up a more comfortable margin – at least six points.
It’s the second consecutive second place finish for skipper Charles Caudrelier’s team and this one will be bittersweet. The team led for much of this hard Southern Ocean leg and were disappointed to see MAPFRE make a pass to take the win.
But with just one day left to the finish, Dongfeng suffered damage to its keel system and Caudrelier was suddenly looking over his shoulder at Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Team Brunel.
“This was the toughest leg I’ve ever done,” Caudrelier said. “We had this big fight with MAPFRE for most of the race and then a big problem on board just before the finish. A crazy section of gybing around the ice limits, it was a very, very difficult leg.
“We’re a bit disappointed after leading 80 per-cent of the time to give first place to MAPFRE, but there are more legs to come and we will do better.
“They have a small advantage in terms of points and we know they don’t make many mistakes… So each point is important.”
The second place finish will move Dongfeng Race Team up to second place on the overall leaderboard, likely equal on points with Vestas 11th Hour Racing (assuming they finish third).
Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Team Brunel are expected to finish in third and fourth place over the coming hours, while the rest of the fleet is over 24 hours away still.
A third place finish into Melbourne on Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race has Vestas 11th Hour Racing on equal points for second place on the overall leaderboard.
Just after crossing the finishing line, Mark Towill, team director and co-skipper acknowledged the scale of the achievement:
“It was a tough leg. We’re happy to be on the podium again. It’s great to be in on Christmas and I know we’re all looking forward to getting ashore. It was a difficult leg, hard on the bodies, but everyone has held up well.”
The Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew finished behind Dongfeng Race Team but ahead of Team Brunel. At one point, with about 36 hours to go, the race tracker showed nothing to choose between Vestas and Dongfeng in terms of distance to finish, but in reality, the tactical situation favoured the Chinese/French boat.
“It was looking pretty close for a little while, but they were always ahead,” Towill said. “They were always comfortable. Brunel sailed well too so credit to them. It was challenging conditions and we’re all happy to be here and in one piece.”
For Team Brunel, this is a second consecutive mid-fleet finish. Skipper Bouwe Bekking knows it keeps his team in touch with leaders, but time is running out to make a charge for the podium on the overall leaderboard.
“It’s been a really hard leg. We always expected it would be tough and it lived up to that,” Bekking said. “Plenty of breeze and some awesome sailing as well.
“We don’t have any big issues. We could start for Leg 4 in 10 minutes! The boat has done incredibly well.”
Bekking also revealed that Annie Lush, injured earlier in the Leg, has been taking light shifts on deck over the past couple of days, great news about one of the toughest sailors in the fleet.
Team Brunel posted the best 24-hour run so far on this leg, at 538.1 nautical miles, for an average speed of 22.4 knots.
“We had an excellent day on board TeamBrunel in many ways,” Bekking wrote in his daily email on Sunday morning. “Not enough to overtake Vestas, but we haven’t given up, we know strange things can happen…”
And that may well be his philosophy the rest of the way. Don’t give up; keep the pressure on, strange things can happen.
That means three boats will remain at sea for Christmas, with SHK/Scallywag battling to the end with Turn the Tide on Plastic for fifth place. Their ETA is currently around 0400 UTC on December 26.
Team AkzoNobel, with over 550 nautical miles to go at this point, isn’t expected to finish in Melbourne before 0800 UTC on December 27.
Leg 3 – Provisional Results –at Sunday 24 December (Leg 3, Day 15) at 23:30 UTC
1. MAPFRE — FINISHED — 16:07.21 UTC – 14 days, 04h:07m:21s
2. Dongfeng Race Team — FINISHED – 20:10:16 UTC – 14 days, 08h:10m:16s
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing — FINISHED – 21:52:11 UTC – 14 days, 09h:52m:11s
4. Team Brunel — FINISHED – 23:36:27 UTC – 14 days, 11h:36m:27s