COWES, ENG – Skipper Xabi Fernandez and his MAPFRE team smashed the established record time for a monohull around the Isle of Wight in the opening test for the Volvo Ocean Race fleet today. MAPFRE clocked 3 hours,13 minutes,11 seconds in strong conditions off England’s south coast to hold off Team Brunel and win the Around the Island Race, the first in a series of four "Leg Zero" tests acting as qualifiers for 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.
The first four of the Volvo Ocean 65s – MAPFRE, Brunel, AkzoNobel and Dongfeng all finished under the fastest previous monohull time of 3:20, set by the super-maxi ICAP Maximus. The World Sailing Speed Record Council must ratify those times.
"Of course, I'm very happy with the crew,'' Fernandez said. "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."
It was a typical grey summer's day in Cowes, with scattered patches of drizzle, when the brass cannons of the Royal Yacht Squadron boomed out the first official start signal. MAPFRE brought its Olympic experience to bear as it won the start handily, beating Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Brunel across the line.
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 favorite point of sail, with navigator Joan Vila perfectly choosing MAPFRE's course and sail changes.
These are the same waters, of course, where AMERICA beat a British fleet around the Isle of Wight in 1851 to give birth to the America's Cup.
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 Sunday. After the Fastnet, the teams complete Leg Zero by sailing from Plymouth to Saint-Malo and then on to Lisbon.
1. MAPFRE – 3:13:11
2. Team Brunel – 3:14:55
3. Team AkzoNobel – 3:15:16
4. Dongfeng Race Team – 3:18:26
5. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 3:24:16
6. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 3:25:10
7. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag: 3:29:53
All those times are rather faster than the approx eight hours it took the schooner yacht AMERICA to complete the same course in 1851.