Published: Thursday, 03 August 2017

MAPFRE took first blood in the opening battle of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet – with Xabi Fernández and his Spanish team smashing the established record time for a monohull around the Isle of Wight.

Spanish Team Mapfre Smashes Record In Pre Volvo Ocean Race Test 4

(Photos: Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race - MAPFRE)

MAPFRE clocked 3h13m11s off England’s south coast to hold off Team Brunel and notch up victory in the Around the Island Race – the first in a series of four 'Leg Zero' tests acting as qualifiers for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18, which starts on October 22.

Xabi Fernández, skipper of MAPFRE, said: "Of course, I’m very happy wth the crew. It’s one of our strongest points – a lot of us have sailed together already and the new people are all good people, very switched on, and things are coming together nicely.”

The first four of the Volvo Ocean 65s – MAPFRE, Brunel, AkzoNobel and Dongfeng – were all, subject to ratification by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, under the fastest previous monohull time of 3:20, set by the super-maxi ICAP Maximus.

MAPFRE brought their team’s Olympic experience to bear as they won the start handily, beating Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Brunel across the line.

Spanish Team Mapfre Smashes Record In Pre Volvo Ocean Race Test 5

(Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag)

David Witt, skipper of Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, said: “It was very wet, very windy and we didn’t do very well but there’s a long way to go. We can take a fair bit out of this. It was the first time we’ve ever lined up against anyone and we were right in it. Far from dire straits. If it all went well then you probably don’t learn as much.”

With wind from the south between 15-20 knots at the start and gusts up to 35 knots, the boats flew down the Solent on the outgoing tide. The most recently announced team, and thus the team with the least miles in training, Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic was the only boat with a reef at the start. They were quickly joined by the rest of the fleet as the wind built during the drag race down the Solent.  

After the southern point of the island the Volvo Ocean 65s were finally able to bear away onto their favourite point of sail, with navigator Joan Vila choosing MAPFRE’s course and sail changes.

Spanish Team Mapfre Smashes Record In Pre Volvo Ocean Race Test 3

(Dongfeng Race Team)

Charles Caudrelier, skipper of Dongfeng Race Team, said: “Windy and wet for sure. We had a nice match with MAPFRE, had a very good day and we were fighting with AkzoNobel and Brunel. We have seen a lot of things to improve and everyone is ready. It was not an easy day!”

There was no surprise that all the top teams around the back of the island had done the previous race, with MAPFRE leading Dongfeng and Brunel. Bouwe Bekking’s strong performance demonstrated that despite only a week’s training before today, and crew trials still underway, the 39,000 miles sailed in the 2014-15 edition are worth gold.

The boats will now regroup in Gosport as a final opportunity to prepare for the Rolex Fastnet Race, the second stage of Leg Zero, starting on August 6. After the Fastnet, the teams complete Leg Zero by sailing from Plymouth to St Malo and then on to Lisbon.

Race Results:

1. MAPFRE: 3 hours 13 minutes 11 seconds
2. Team Brunel: 3 hours 14 minutes 55 seconds
3. team AkzoNobel: 3 hours 15 minutes 16 seconds
4. Dongfeng Race Team: 3 hours 18 minutes 26 seconds
5. Turn the Tide on Plastic: 3 hours 24 minutes 16 seconds
6. Vestas 11th Hour Racing: 3 hours 25 minutes 10 seconds
7. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag: 3 hours 29 minutes 53 seconds