Vestas 11th Hour Racing takes first win in Volvo Ocean Race, while Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag's dramatic Lisbon finish includes running aground, then kedging

Charlie Enwright’s Vestas 11th Hour Racing has taken the first offshore leg in of the Volvo Ocean Race, crossing the finish line in Lisbon, Portugal, this afternoon after a tense final battle with Mapfre in a dying wind that saw their advantage over the Spanish team whittled down to just 10 miles.

Although Dongfeng Race Team looked to get the best start out of Alicante, Vestas 11th Hour Racing took the lead on the first night of Leg 1 and never relinquished it. Despite an unsettled start and last minute skipper change, Team AkzoNobel was their nearest rival for the early stages of the leg, chasing in second on the approach to Gibraltar. The fleet had a fast exit from the Med, with 30-knot conditions.

Simeon Tienpont skippered AkzoNobel to fourth in Leg 1. Photo by Jesus Renedo/Volvo Ocean Race

Meanwhile the highly fancied returning teams of Dongfeng and Brunel found themselves at the rear of the fleet as they entered the Atlantic. On the approach to Porto Santo South, Mapfre split to the north as Vestas sailed into painfully light winds of sub 5-knots, while Dongfeng began to chip their way back through the fleet.

For Leg 1 race officer Phil Lawrence had chosen a 1,400 mile course route going via Porto Santo off Madeira, rather than one of the 700-mile more direct Alicante to Lisbon routes. The course was then modified mid-race to include a second waypoint, Porto Santo North, adding another 200 miles to the leg for scheduling reasons, giving race organisers a neat seven-day leg and Saturday afternoon winner’s arrival.

Leg 1, Alicante to Lisbon winners, Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Photo by Jesus Renedo/Volvo Ocean Race

The leg win gives Enwright and crew 8 points for the leg win, which includes a one point ‘bonus’ for first place.

With a breeze shut down in final miles sailed up the River Tagus, and an outgoing current, some teams attempted kedging in the final approach. But the crew on Vestas held their nerve, tacking towards the line in agonisingly light headwinds, and finally securing victory just as Mapfre in turn began to slow down, some 9 miles back.

“We have a long way to go certainly, but this was a good way to start,” said skipper Charlie Enright. “SiFi (navigator Simon Fisher) did a great job. He didn’t really make any missteps… But every sked is nerve-wracking, especially when you’re stuck in a river going backwards!

“But we pride ourselves on not getting too high or too low and I think we executed that on this leg… It’s about having confidence in ourselves and committing to the process and now we’re starting to see the results of that.”

Mapfre just hold Donfeng on the final approach into Lisbon. Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race.

The winners weren’t the only team to have an excruciating finish experience. When Mapfre was within 1.5 miles of the line, they too ran out of wind and had to watch Dongfeng Race Team rush into the river behind them. With only a small lead as a buffer, the tension for Spanish fans was rising fast.

But as Vestas did before them, Mapfre found a little zephyr of wind to finish 15-minutes ahead of the Chinese team.

“Very pleased with the result. It’s a solid start, exactly what we wanted. We’re very happy,” said Xabi Fernández, the Mapfre skipper, immediately after finishing. “We have to say Vestas did very well early on and we didn’t see them again… But then we had a strong 12-hours after Gibraltar and we stepped it up there.”

On the second night, in the 30+ knot winds the fleet saw pushing out of the Mediterranean, Fernández and the Mapfre team put in more manoeuvres than the rest of fleet to stay in a narrow band of strong winds and emerged from the experience in the second place slot.

2017.10.28 – Lisbon – Dongfeng finish third of Leg1

Dongfeng Racing Team skipper Charles Caudrelier made an excellent recovery on Leg 1, passing Team AkzoNobel with 220 miles to go, to score a podium finish.

“It was very difficult and complicated,” Caudrelier said. “The weather was often different from the forecast so that was interesting.”

Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag aground in the River Tagus. Photo by Jesus Renedo/Volvo Ocean Race.

Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag had the most dramatic finish in fifth, with the yacht running aground, then kedging, and navigator Steve Hayles hit by the boom (no word yet on whether he was injured).

Immediately after crossing the line a frazzled-looking skipper David Witt commented: “I’ve never finished like that before! We tried to AkzoNobel by coming down the shore there, went in pretty close and got stuck on the bottom, and Parko [Luke Parkinson] and Alex [Gough] had to swim out into the Channel with the anchor to get us off the bottom, so we could the drop our sails and drift across the finish line!”

“We put two lifejackets on the anchor with sheets, and Alex and Parko swam it out, then we could winch ourselves back off the rocks.”

Scallywag skipper David Witt. Photo by Jesus Renedo/Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race: standings following Leg 1 (as at 17:00 UTC, 28 October 2017)
1. Vestas 11th Hour Racing 8 points
2. MAPFRE 6 points
3. Dongfeng Race Team 5 points
4. Team AkzoNobel 4 points
5. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag 3 points
6. Team Brunel – still racing
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic – still racing