EN ROUTE CAPE TOWN TO MELBOURNE – The crew aboard MAPFRE has one thing on their minds: Christmas Eve in port. There will be a nice gift waiting at the docks: double points for winning Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race. The Spanish-flagged boat was just less than 300 nautical miles from Melbourne on on Saturday afternoon.
Before they can add to their advantage on the leaderboard, the crew must negotiate a pesky high-pressure system threatening to encroach from the west, bringing lighter winds, not to mention the tricky currents and tidal gates between them and the finish line. But now with a lead of nearly 100 nautical miles over Dongfeng Race Team, they are in an enviable position.
“It’s looking that way. It’s been a tough leg and until yesterday it’s been so tight with Dongfeng and we’ve been pushing so hard,” skipper Xabi Fernández (ESP) said Saturday. “Now it’s true, we have stretched a lot and if we don’t have any problem we should be all good.”
The key to being in this position came from their strategy earlier in the leg, when they resisted the temptation to do something “crazy” and instead just kept it close, tucked in tight behind Dongfeng when the Chinese/French team was the early leg leader.
“It was so important to always keep it tight. And sometimes the way to do that is to follow the leader. We fought very hard to keep it always close and then of course every new system is an opportunity for the guy behind and we took it. It was hard when we were chasing them – they are hard to catch – and then the feeling when we passed them is unbelievable.”
Behind the leading pair, there is intrigue in the battle for the final podium position between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Team Brunel. At one point Friday night, Brunel jumped ahead on the distance to finish ("DTF") measurement for a short burst, before Vestas clawed back in front. And then, skipper Charlie Enright (USA) and navigator Simon "SiFi" Fisher (GBR) elected to go into Stealth Mode.
“We use Stealth Mode when there’s something going on tactically,” Fisher said. “Brunel have been chasing hard the last few days… and applying a bit of pressure. The gybe last night and our moment to choose when to come back to the north is important so we thought going in to Stealth Mode would keep them guessing a bit as to exactly where we are. There are some tactical options as to how far east/west you want to be when you start to head to Melbourne and if they don’t know where we are they’re forced to pick their own lane.”
Brunel has done that – and is charging ahead with the highest speed and racing in the strongest wind among the boats on the 1300 UTC position report. But Vestas was about 15nm ahead of Brunel when it came out of Stealth Mode.
For the chasing three, it’s a matter of getting far enough east to avoid the light winds of the high pressure system, before turning north toward the finish. That left hand turn will be welcomed by the crews, as each mile to the north brings warmer wind and water temperatures.
Meanwhile, second place Dongfeng has reportedly had a problem with their canting keel. SI had heard, unofficially, of such problems a day or so ago, but sat on the news pending confirmation, which has now come via VOR Media's latest report.
The ETA for MAPFRE is early Sunday afternoon UTC, Christmas Eve.
Leg 3 – Position Report – Saturday 23 December (Day 14) – 13:00 UTC
1. MAPFRE distance to finish: 429.9 nautical miles
2. Dongfeng Race Team: +94.7nm
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing: stealth mode
4. Team Brunel: +155.3nm
5. Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag: +408.3nm
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic: +440.9nm
7. team AkzoNobel +822.4nm
Tamara Echegoyen (ESP) on board Leg 3, and overall race, leader MAPFRE. Photo by Jen Edney/Volvo Ocean Race.