MAPFRE, the Spanish boat which finished last of the fleet in Leg 1, has bounced back in style to challenge for the lead in the next stage between Cape Town and Abu Dhabi.
Skipper Iker Martínez (ESP) acted decisively after MAPFRE’s disappointing result on November 7 and introduced experienced watch leader, Rob Greenhalgh (GBR), and new navigator, Jean-Luc Nélias (FRA), to the eight-man crew.
It was a tough call as Martínez was forced to drop the twice-Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux as a result, but so far, the changes have worked like a charm.
By just before 1000 GMT on Tuesday, MAPFRE were just under two nautical miles (nm) off the pace set by Leg 1 winners Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, but in a better position to sail directly to the finish than Ian Walker’s (GBR) crew.
Nobody in the seven-strong fleet is more determined to excel in this 5,200nm stage than Martínez, 37, who won the first three legs of the last edition in 2011-12 as skipper of Telefónica before their challenge faded for an eventual fourth place finish.
“We want to get rid of the bad taste in the mouth from Leg 1,” he told volvooceanrace.com. “We’re determined to finish on the podium in Abu Dhabi.”
The strategy of MAPFRE has been simple: stay in the middle of the fleet as much as possible and make sure they don’t miss any breakaway moves from their rivals.
Martínez’s right-hand man, Xabi Fernandez, explained: “We spend all day and all night looking at our rivals. You want to measure the (wind) pressure in close detail, knowing that you just can’t commit any errors.
“To be so close to the lead, we have sailed at 100 percent.”
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, meanwhile, have found themselves well to the west of the fleet almost by accident, when only a position report from Race Control informed them that the other six boats had tacked to the east while they ploughed on in the opposite direction.
Fortunately, for the crew on board ‘Azzam’, the wind pressure in their location has been higher than that of their rivals – at least for the time being – and they snatched the lead by Tuesday morning.
Walker admitted: “We find ourselves a little bit out on a limb with the fleet, so I’m a little bit nervous right now.”
Ahead lies a possible cyclone or tropical storm before a finish in Abu Dhabi in mid-December so it's certainly not all plain sailing for any of the teams from here.
– VOR Media