Simeon Tienpont, the AkzoNobel skipper who was dismissed for a breach of contract last week, was reinstated as skipper of the Dutch entry just hours before a dramatic start to the first Volvo Ocean Race offshore leg

Yesterday’s first offshore leg of the Volvo Ocean Race start saw a dramatic twist just hours before the first gun, with Team AkzoNobel skipper Simeon Tienpont, who had been dismissed for a breach of contract, reinstated on the morning of the race . Tienpont cast off from Alicante with an eight-person crew that included shore team members and a sailor borrowed from another squad as some of the crew’s most experienced and long-standing sailors remained ashore.

After the first night of racing Team Vestas 11th Hour Racing leads the Volvo Ocean Race this morning with a three mile lead ahead of Team AkzoNobel after the two boats took a northerly route closer to the coast of Cabo de Gata in Andalucia on the 1,450-mile leg from Alicante to Lisbon via Porto Santo, the Portuguese island near Madeira.

Team AkzoNobel’s early position at the front of the fleet will surprise many after the team’s shock announcement on the morning of the race that previously dismissed skipper Simeon Tienpont had been reinstated following a Dutch legal arbitration.

The saga first came to light on the eve of the first in-port race last week, when the Dutch-flagged Team AkzoNobel made the shock announcement that Simeon Tienpont had left his role as skipper ‘following a breach of contract’.

The team raced on Saturday, 14 October’s in-port race, the first with points to count towards the event, without a named skipper, instead with navigator Jules Salter named as Person in Charge. AkzoNobel finished sixth of the seven entries.

Tienpont responded to the news, saying that the claims of a breach of contract were ‘absolutely unfounded and very damaging to my reputation, especially in view of the timing, just before the start of the race’.

The following day the team put out a statement saying: “Simeon Tienpont’s management company STEAM breached its contract to manage the team AkzoNobel entry in the Volvo Ocean race 2017-18.

“The breach was serious enough for AkzoNobel to terminate the contract with immediate effect and AkzoNobel then took over the full management of the team.
“Simeon was offered the option to continue as skipper but opted not to continue and has left the team.”

In a war of words played out online, Tienpont countered that: “AkzoNobel seriously neglected its sponsor obligations by withholding payments to Steam Ocean. As a result Tienpont was brought in a position where he could not pay the salaries of his crew over the last months.’

After five days of speculation, AkzoNobel’s watch captain Brad Jackson was announced as skipper.

Tienpont being interviewed for Volvo Ocean Race television coverage before the start in Alicante. Photo by Pedro Martinez/Volvo Ocean Race. 22 October, 2017.

Then in a further twist, on the eve of the first offshore leg, it was announced that Tienpont had won an arbitration case he brought against AkzoNobel in the Dutch Arbitration Institute. A source in Alicante told us that Tienpont was seen onboard the team VO65 at around 0600 on the morning of the first leg, and was asked to step off the boat by security, but refused, producing paperwork which asserted his right to skipper the boat or to prevent it leaving without him on board. Members of support staff were seen in tears around the race village.

Shortly before the teams docked out for the race start, Team AkzoNobel released a statement saying “Following extensive discussions, we are pleased to announced that Team AkzoNobel will be starting the Volvo Ocean Race today under skipper Simeon Tienpont.”

Four key members of the crew stepped off the boat in the latest reshuffle, with watch leaders Brad Jackson and Jules Salter, navigator Joca Signorini and last minute signing Rome Kirby remaining on shore. Former shore crew member Ross Monson was promoted to navigator and Antonio Fontes stepped across from Sun Hung Kai Scallywag squad. What happens to the team for Leg 2 from Lisbon is currently anyone’s guess – the only thing that’s certain is that there are lawyers involved on both sides.

Alicante stopover. Start. Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race. 22 October, 2017.

Inshore slalom

While there was plenty of drama onshore, on the water things were no less frenetic. Starting with a round-the-cans course off Alicante before heading south-west to Porto Santo in 15-20 knots, the seven Volvo 65s put on a show that will be rank as one of the most spectacular starts the race has seen. Turn the Tide on Plastic and Scallywag were forced to slalom between wall of spectator boats on the course, Dee Caffari’s team avoiding a collision by inches with a reversing spectator vessel (advisory, some swearing audible in video below):

Scallywag got the best of the starts, before early favourites Dongfeng Race Team, Mapfre and Brunel took the lead. Charles Caudrelier, Dongfeng skipper, aggressively forced Brunel and MAPFRE to gybe away, the three boats sailing with less than a metre between them at one point, Both Brunel and MAPFRE were awarded penalties for failing to keep clear, which saw Caudrelier lead the fleet into open water.

Alicante stopover. Leg 01 start. Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race. 22 October, 2017.

After a first night of racing, around 12 miles separate first and seventh boats. Vestas 11th Hour is in the lead as the most northerly Team AkzoNobel in second. Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag lies third, with Team Brunel just a mile away while Dongfeng and Mapfre are taking a more southerly line.