December 26, 2017: MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - An epic victory for MAPFRE in Melbourne after 6500 miles, 14 days and 4 hours sailing in one of the most inhospitable areas of the planet, the Southern Ocean. Today Xabi Fernández’s team crossed the finish line in Melbourne in first place. An extremely tough and complicated leg, where the fleet has had to face the harshest of conditions, huge waves, freezing temperatures and being constantly battered by water over the deck. MAPFRE has fought mile for mile since South Africa, as they headed to their second leg victory in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, after winning in Cape Town and their second place in Lisbon.
“It has been a very tough leg for the last two weeks, and for at least ten days we have had really strong wind conditions. It has been a really fast, and even fun leg, because we have had a good fight with Dongfeng, and in the end we were really tired but looking forward to arriving,“ said the team’s skipper, from the Basque country.
A testing leg
Early this morning, and only a few hours from arrival, the crew on board MAPFRE were over 70 miles ahead of Dongfeng, and already counting the hours until arrival,
“We are now starting to breathe a little easier, and thinking that, if everything stays the same, we have it in the bag! What a fabulous feeling we have on board,” were the words of an elated Xabi.
After a titanic battle; endless nights of hourly gybing, and fighting minute by minute to be at the front of the fleet, the feeling on board on the final stretch towards Melbourne was at a complete high.
From the very moment the Spanish VO65 left Cape Town, their intention was to fight for victory of one of the most important legs in this Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18. MAPFRE were well aware that they needed to make the utmost effort in this first Southern Ocean leg, and with double the points to go with it, although their rivals were not going to make it easy.
The fight with Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng, ahead of them for the first part of the leg, meant that Xabi Fernández’s team were forced to push to their utmost throughout the 6500 miles, to keep their options open, and be able to fight for victory.
As Xabi explained,
“It was essential that we stay close when we were behind, and not do anything that wasn’t necessary. They were obviously sailing really well, so we had to follow their wake, and stick as close as possible, so that when we had the chance, we could make the most of it. The gybing war was what we expected, because it comes with having such strict ice gates. In the end you know that for 24 hours you are going to have to push hard, and the crew did really well. You gybe, you go to bed and try to make the most of the 20 minutes you have before the next one.”
After several exhausting days, almost has been continuously pushing, even with an important advantage over the Chinese team, who in the last few hours have had to deal with damage to the keel’s hydraulics system.
Xabi Fernández’s team finally crossed the finish line in Melbourne in first place at 1600 UTC, bringing an end to one of the most long-awaited, and also one of the toughest legs of the round-the-world race.
Second placed Dongfeng, finished the leg at 2010 UTC and Vestas 11th Hour Racing has finished in third place at 2152 UTC.
On land it is Christmas, and there are now eight days to prepare for the next leg.
Predictions saw the fleet arriving in Melbourne between the 26th and 27th December, and as such, the arrival of MAPFRE on Christmas Eve allows Xabi Fernández’s team to enjoy Christmas surrounded by family, friends and members of the shore team, who have travelled Melbourne.
The departure of the fleet from Melbourne to Hong Kong is scheduled for Wednesday 2nd January at 1400 local time (0300 UTC). Until then, the Spanish VO65 crew will be resting and restoring their strength as much as possible, so they are able to once again set off on another, far from straightforward leg.
“The leg has been so fast, that we have gained a couple of days of rest here in Melbourne. We can rest a little, check the boat about 20 times, and then get ready to leave again on 2nd January,” explained Xabi, once back on shore.