Iker Martinez’ team maintain their grip on Leg 1 to the finish, Camper takes second

In a contrast to previous Cape Town finishes where the fleet are frequently parked up as they make the final few miles to the finish, Telefonica blasted their way to a leg 1 win, heavily reefed down and in 40 knots of breeze.

After putting in a faultless performance on Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, which started from Alicante, Spain on November 5, Team Telefónica crossed the finish in Cape Town at 1814 UTC (2014 local time) on Saturday after 6,500 nautical miles and 21 days, five hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds (21:5:14:25).

“The feeling is fantastic,” said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez. “It’s something that you only dream of. We’ve seen what can happen and we have achieved much more than we thought we could.”

The team now lead the Volvo Ocean Race with a total of 31 points — 30 for victory in the first offshore leg and one point for coming last in the Iberdrola In-Port Race back in Alicante. Camper were around 200 nm behind the winners, with an ETA of Sunday morning. Groupama sailing team were around 825 nm behind and expected in on Tuesday.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Team Sanya and Puma Ocean Racing were all forced to retire from the leg and are facing a race against time to be ready for the Cape Town In-Port Race on December 10 and the start of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi the following day.

It was day four, November 8, when Telefónica first took over the lead from Puma’s Mar Mostro. The pair had covered each other’s moves in what has turned out to be an unusual opening leg for the world’s premier ocean race. Boat-breaking conditions early on, which forced out Ian Walker and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam and Mike Sanderson’s Sanya, gave way to endless upwind sailing in light airs.

As Camper, Telefónica and Puma all decided west definitely was best in terms of position, the drag race between Telefónica and Mar Mostro began and looked set to continue throughout this, the second longest leg of course. Groupama became a lonely warrior, splitting from the pack in an unorthodox move and hugging the African coast, a tactic that put her briefly into first place.

By day seven, Puma’s Mar Mostro and Telefónica had traded places and the following day, the fleet finally found the weather system they had been looking for and hoisted their downwind sails.

On day 11 and after 2,000 nautical miles of racing, Mar Mostro was only 7.2 nautical miles ahead of the blue boat and, as the leading pair tackled the windless Doldrums, the lead swapped regularly.

At the Equator, Puma’s Mar Mostro and Telefónica crossed within an hour of each other and the trend continued when, on day 13, November 17, Mar Mostro led Telefónica round the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha by 55 minutes. But, by day 14, fortunes had changed and Telefónica had taken charge as the two yachts raced hard to reach a cold front, which would catapult them into Cape Town.
Martínez said at the time, “We’re pretty close to PUMA, almost nothing between us. It’s great to be so close – it makes it a great race.”

The crew of Telefónica had freed themselves from Puma’s vice-like grip and stormed away, heading south to skirt the Saint Helena high-pressure system that blocked their path to the sought-after westerlies and the inevitable sleigh-ride to the finish.

On day 17, November 21, 31 nm behind Telefónica, Mar Mostro dismasted. The match race was over. Puma limped away towards the most remote settlement on earth at Tristan da Cunha, where they await a ship to take them back to Cape Town, and the crew of Telefónica sailed their own foot perfect race to the finish.

Second to cross the line was Camper, skippered by Chris Nicholson, completing the leg at 10:48:04 UTC on today in an elapsed time of 21 days 21 hours 48 minutes and four seconds.

“We are here in second and that’s a good result so we are happy with the points and the position, but we were all expecting to do better.” Nicholson said on the dockside in Cape Town,” said Nicholson. “We have had 20 days of playing catch up from an early mistake and we weren’t able to catch up.”

“It was tough,” he continued. “It was different from any other first leg i have done before. The weather just wasn’t the same. We are here and we are in good shape.”

Referring to the damage which had forced Sanya, Abu Dhabi and Puma to retire from Leg 1 Nicholson dismissed any suggestion that these teams were out of now contention.

“The fact that it has happened to them means that it could happen to anyone at anytime. If I was in their shoes I would know that this race is still wide open.”

Having performed brilliantly on the short inshore element of the course, Camper powered away from Alicante at the head of the fleet back on November 5. They survived the boat-breaking conditions of the first night unscathed but an uncharacteristic navigational hesitation soon after entering the Atlantic left Chris Nicholson’s team playing catch up from that point on.

Resisting the urge to gamble on a risky move to get them back in contention, instead Nicholson’s men kept their cool, concentrated on trying to grind down their deficit on the leaders and waited patiently for an opportunity to present itself.

Towards the end of the leg when Telefonica and Camper hooked into a high wind cold front heading straight for Cape Town, it was Nicholson who pushed his crew hardest, sailing flat out for days on end and clocking up 554.16 nautical miles in a 24-hour period, a performance that will almost certainly win them the IWC Schaffhausen Speed Record Challenge for Leg 1.