Matthew Sheahan sails with Camper on Leg Zero, the only journalist to take part in the race

As the Volvo Ocean Race counts down to the start, the organisers ran their own test event for the six boat fleet, a 350 mile offshore race from Alicante to Palma, Majorca and back.

For the organisers, the race was an opportunity to test their procedures and systems three weeks ahead of the start. From docking out, to race control and communication systems, the event was run as if the race was starting for real.

For competitors the event provided the first and only opportunity for teams to square up to each other and evaluate their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. With the rules now banning two boat testing and putting strict limits on the amount of racing that teams could do before the race, this event was a valuable and crucial opportunity.

For us at Yachting World, the race provided a unique insight into life aboard racing aboard these over powered, under crewed machines as Matthew Sheahan joined the crew of Camper.

We will be publishing a full feature on the trip in the December issue of the magazine (out early Nov).

In the meantime you can see his video report from onboard the boat on his blog where he talks about his experience and what’s in store for the race itself.

Here’s the official word on how the race played out, plus a statement following the Abu Dhabi team decision to retire from the race. Sparks are flying already!

Alicante, Spain – October 9, 2011 – Team Telefónica crossed the line first in the final Volvo Ocean Race qualifier today, celebrating their arrival back in Alicante with a breakfast of sparkling wine and chocolate croissants.

Telefónica, skippered by Olympic gold medallist Iker Martínez, arrived at 05:45:24 UTC/GMT (07:45:24 local time) after completing a 360-nautical mile race that started at 1300 UTC on Friday and took the fleet out to Palma de Mallorca and back, in fickle winds which varied from 25 knots to almost nothing.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion, Team Sanya, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama sailing team also completed the qualifier on Sunday.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing arrived back but officially retired from the race after skipper Ian Walker, satisfied the crew had completed all the required drills checks, turned on the boat’s engine while they were becalmed. Race management was considering whether to take any action on Sunday.

Martínez played down the importance of finishing first, as no points were awarded in a race introduced to test safety procedures including the man overboard drill, emergency steering and storm sails.

“It was not a real race,” Martínez said while dripping with champagne following the team’s onshore celebrations. “We spent a lot of time doing those manoeuvres for the safety procedures, and we could have won or lost on any one of those.”

The race turned into a north-south gamble when the fleet split on Saturday, with Telefónica, PUMA and Sanya taking the southerly route around Ibiza and hooking into much stronger winds.

CAMPER, Groupama 4 and Ian Walker’s Azzam took a more direct northerly route but were becalmed for longer.
PUMA finished behind Telefónica, with Team Sanya following soon afterwards.

Skipper Ken Read judged the race a great chance to compare PUMA’s Mar Mostro with the five other Volvo Open 70s for the first time.

“We learned some valuable lessons about ourselves and the other teams,” he said. “We’ve always known that all the boats are going to be really fast and this race confirmed that. There are no dogs out there.”

Team Sanya’s watch leader Cameron Dunn, who skippered the boat in the absence of Mike Sanderson, said the performance was a confidence boost for the only team racing in an older generation boat.

“We have proved that if we sail smart and don’t make mistakes then we can beat some of the newer boats,” he said.

CAMPER made the best start and enjoyed a warm welcome at Palma de Mallorca, their Spanish base, before being hit by the lack of wind. They finished just behind Groupama in the early afternoon in Spain.

Racing will officially begin when the six teams go head to head in the first in-port race in Alicante on October 29. Leg 1 will start on November 5 when the teams race out in to the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa.

Alicante, Spain – October 10, 2011 – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have agreed to sail a further 111 miles to complete their qualification for the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 following their retirement from a test race over the weekend.

During the 360-mile qualifying race from Alicante to Palma, Mallorca and back, the six boats were required to carry out several safety drills. Having completed all of the required procedures, Abu Dhabi opted to motor rather than sail during a windless section of the course.
After consultation with the race committee, the Abu Dhabi crew will ensure they are in compliance with section 4.2 of the Notice of Race by completing the 111-mile sail.

The passage must be completed by the original qualification race crew before October 21. The course requires them to round Isla de Benidorm and Isla de Tabarca and must be made without using the yacht’s engine.

Skipper Ian Walker commented: “We had strong reasons for our decision to motor part of the remaining 110 miles of the qualification course and immediately notified the committee of our intentions.
“Sailing these extra miles will give the team a chance to refine some of our data for Mediterranean conditions and look at our new sails away from the prying eyes in Alicante. This will also give another opportunity to refine the offshore communication systems with the race committee. We plan to complete the trip next week.”

Race Director Jack Lloyd said: “This is a satisfactory resolution agreed by all parties and we are all now focusing on the race proper starting from October 29 in Alicante.”

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are expected to launch a powerful challenge in the 11th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. This August the team set a new monohull course record of 1 day 18 hours 39 minutes in the 605-mile Fastnet Race.