ALICANTE, Spain, July 16 – Three Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 crews – Team SCA, Team Brunel and the Spanish challengers – will go head-to-head in the first competitive clash of the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65s in the Round Canary Islands Race from Saturday.
The 650-nautical mile race around the seven Canary Islands starting and finishing at Marina Rubicón in Lanzarote is expected to take three days to complete and will give an early indication of form for half of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet so far announced before the event begins on October 4.
At opposite ends of the scale in terms of preparation, Iker Martínez’s Spanish-backed boat will take on two of the most-practised crews in the fleet: the all-women’s crew of Team SCA and Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel.
Martínez, who was this week confirmed as the skipper of a campaign that has yet to announce its main title sponsor, knows he faces a major challenge to catch up on his rival sailors who in some cases have had more than a year’s extra experience handling the new Volvo Ocean 65s.
As least he will not be short of serious racing know-how on board after the French offshore iconic figure of Michel Desjoyeaux joined the crew for the Canary Islands test as part of his new role as a senior advisor for the team.
“It’s a big challenge – not only because the Volvo Ocean Race is such a long and tough race for all the crew members – but also because we know we do not have much time left before the first leg start on October 11,” said Martínez who was skipper of fourth-placed Telefónica in the 2011-12 edition.
“We know that we’re really pressed for time and the other teams are far ahead in terms of preparation but we are working hard to make up the difference.”
Bekking, a six-time veteran of the Volvo Ocean Race, was meanwhile hungrily anticipating a return to competitive sailing after a spell of relative relaxation for his Dutch-backed boat.
“We had two busy months in the Netherlands where the focus was mainly on public relations and sailing with sponsors. Everyone is happy to be back – the focus is again on performance and optimising the boat,” he said.
In contrast, under the strict Volvo Ocean Race rules, Team Alvimedica and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are not competing against each other as they cross the Atlantic from Newport, Rhode Island to the United Kingdom and are forbidden from closing to within two miles.
The crews have lately been bedevilled by a lack of wind and Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker summed up the situation succinctly: “What was a race north, is now a race east, which has brought Team Alvimedica right back into the race.
“We’re making our way east but just not very quickly”
While their five rivals are embracing the chance to put in some serious miles in the open sea, meanwhile, Dongfeng Race team are convinced that in-shore drills are the secret to improvements for their largely rookie crew which includes four Chinese newcomers.
They have been in the safe hands of in-shore coach Thierry Péponnet, the Olympic 470 champion in Seoul 1988.
“The purpose of doing so much in-shore training is because we think that is the best way to work on our communication onboard,” said team boss Bruno Dubois. “We feel that if we use the same momentum and procedures off-shore as we do in-shore then that’s better.”