Preparations are being finalised for Sunday 22nd April, start day of Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18, from Itajaí (Brazil) to Newport (USA) across a distance of 5,700 nautical miles, where MAPFRE will aim to fight to be at the head of the fleet, and win back their overall lead of the race. No easy task, but Xabi Fernández and his crew are fully confident of their chances, and are well aware that with 40 points still at stake for the remainder of the round-the-world race, there is still a lot of racing to be done, before anything will be decided.
“We are in the final stages of the race, but so much can still happen. We have been taking care of the details again, and it has been a good stopover both for us as a team, and for the boat,” declares the Spanish team’s skipper, Xabi Fernández.
“We should be happy with where we are right now. We are just one point from Dongfeng, who are obviously the strongest team, and we have every chance of being in the battle, and with options to win the race. Obviously we cannot let our guard down, and now is really the right time for us to sail another good leg, and try to win back the leadership of the race.”
Navigator Joan Vila agrees, “What we need to do from now on, is to sail as we know perfectly well to do, and as we did in the first few legs. We need to create our strategy, and believe in our possibilities. The boat is fast, and being second overall will also help us to sail like that.”
This is a vital leg for MAPFRE, and the crew is aware of the importance of giving their absolute best from the very first mile.
The start is programmed for 14:00 local time (17:00 UTC), and it will be crucial for the team to get a good start, as they make their way up through the Atlantic, which promises to be particularly challenging for the fleet.
Enthusiasm, motivation and determination abound in the team, who will undoubtedly return to this next leg reinforced by the stopover in Brazil and the warmth and backing of the thousands of race fans and supporters, who have been visiting the Race Village and the MAPFRE base.
“We have a very sound team, and believe that is what can give us some advantage.” - Pablo Arrarte.
The Santa Helena High, the trade winds, the current in Brazil, the Azores anticyclone, and for the fourth time the Doldrums; these are just some of the ingredients and key points to feature in the 5,700-nm leg. It is not an easy leg, and each of the teams’ experience will be fundamental in defining their individual strategies, as Spanish sailor Pablo Arrarte, MAPFRE’s watch captain explains,
“In this leg the conditions are really changeable. We are going to be entering the Doldrums, where there are areas with squalls and little wind, and it is when the little details and team work really make a difference. We have had a very sound team from the very beginning, and we believe that is what can give us some advantage, at least to be up among the teams who are at the front of the pack.”
With the overall classification of the race closer than ever, (Xabi Fernández’s team are just one point from the leaders, Dongfeng, skippered by French sailor Charles Caudrelier) MAPFRE knows their main objective will be to fight to win back leadership of the race, after an incredibly tough seventh leg in the Southern Ocean. The 12-hour pit stop in Cape Horn, following the breakage of the main sail track, and the main sail itself, prevented the Spanish VO65 from having a claim to the podium in Itajaí, and as such the team is keen to give this next leg their absolute all, and battle to shake things up once again on the scoreboard.
“The scoreboard has got a lot closer, and it is going to be tougher. We don’t have the lead and we will have to push a little harder if we want to catch Dongfeng again. From the very start of the race, we knew that the Chinese team would be our strongest rivals, and we are now closer than ever. It is going to be quite an intense fight. There are still a lot of points at stake over the next four legs, so we can’t overlook the other boats who are behind us either, although Dongfeng is clearly our objective. Let’s see if we can get another first,” states a very determined Arrarte.
MAPFRE continue with the same crew policy, although Sophie Ciszek will not sail this next leg to enable her to rest and recover from an injury in her elbow that has been bothering her for several legs now, and last leg was so tough the injury didn’t improve as much as wished.
“We have absolute faith in Juan [Vila], in his decisions and in the crew. The boat is fast, and there is no reason for us to change anyone neither how we are sailing. The only difference is that this leg will allow Sophie to rest and recover from her injury. She will rest and will come back at her very best for the next Atlantic crossing.”
The start gun for leg 8 will sound on Sunday 22nd April at 17:00 UTC.
VOLVO OCEAN RACE 2017-18 OVERALL after 7 legs
1. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN, Charles Caudrelier), 46 points
2. MAPFRE (ESP, Xabi Fernández), 45 points
3. Team Brunel (NED, Bouwe Bekking), 36 points
4. Team AkzoNobel (NED, Simeon Tienpont), 33 points
5. Sun Hung Kai Scallywag (HKG, David Witt), 26 points
6. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (USA/DEN, Charlie Enright), 23 points
7. Turn The Tide on Plastic (Naciones Unidas, Dee Caffari), 20 points
MAPFRE CREW FOR LEG 8
Xabi Fernández (ESP), skipper
Joan Vila (ESP), navigator
Rob Greenhalgh (GBR), watch captain
Pablo Arrarte (ESP), watch captain
Antonio “Ñeti” Cuervas-Mons (ESP), bowman/boat captain
Willy Altadill (ESP), trimmer/helmsman
Blair Tuke (NZL), trimmer/helmsman
Támara Echegoyen (ESP), trimmer
*Ugo Fonollá(ESP), on-board reporter