x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Telefonica makes it a hat-trick after winning Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race

The Spanish team arrive in Sanya, China, to become first since 1990 to win the opening three legs of the race, extending their lead.

Crew of the Spanish boat Telefonica get a welcoming reception on arrival in Sanya, southern China's Hainan province today, with a handsome 90-minute victory to claim a hat-trick triumph in the leg from Abu Dhabi.
Crew of the Spanish boat Telefonica get a welcoming reception on arrival in Sanya, southern China's Hainan province today, with a handsome 90-minute victory to claim a hat-trick triumph in the leg from Abu Dhabi.

Even after 13 days of debris, storms, position changes, serial tacks and the dreaded Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia, form held tight in the Volvo Ocean Race. yesterday.

Team Telefonica’s romp persists – with the Spanish outfit winning their third straight leg – and Abu Dhabi’s search for utmost ocean form continues.

By arriving first as Leg 3 closed yesterday in China’s southernmost city, Sanya, Telefonica became the first boat since 1990 to hoard victories in the first three ocean legs. Telefonica also won the legs from Alicante to Cape Town and Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.

Their overall lead, seven points as the six contestants left the Maldives on January 21, widened to 15 over second-place Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand, who arrived third in Sanya.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam, meanwhile, arrived fifth and they remain fifth overall.

While 18 of their 39 points have come from wins in short races close to shores, their three ocean legs have yielded a retirement due to a broken mast and two fifth-place finishes, with no real chance for their expected downwind prowess.

“The margins are very small,” the Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker told the Volvo Ocean Race website. “The difference between Telefonica and us is one or two per cent. We sailed pretty well, we just didn’t have the legs to keep up with the leaders.”

The leaders, skippered by the Spaniard Iker Martinez, who, like Walker, is a two-time Olympic medallist, arrived in Sanya at 11.58am (7.58am UAE time) with a time of 12 days, 19 hours, 58 minutes and 21 seconds. Andrew Cape, the navigator, called it “one of the toughest legs I’ve done”, referring to mental and tactical duress.

They led solidly through the final days after a phase of place-trading with the French entry Groupama. Their lead was smallish, at one hour, 47 minutes, but gaping compared with the Leg 2 edge of one minute, 57 seconds over Camper.

Groupama, third overall but second on this stage of Leg 3, tacked 24 times in the last 48 hours, according to the French skipper Franck Cammas, who called it “a good opportunity to test our boat with Telefonica and the leading boats” and to improve “in the tuning of Groupama”.

A hip pick to win the leg based on the upwind conditions, Camper never recovered from finding “the wrong side of a thunderstorm in the Malacca Strait”, the skipper Chris Nicholson told the race website.

He deemed it “pretty much the ball game there and then”, a Malacca ball game that also included the usual dodging of debris, with Puma hitting a tree trunk, even if Abu Dhabi’s closest brush with debris – an unlit steel pillar buoy – happened off the Vietnam coast.

Camper had duelled with Abu Dhabi and fallen into fifth, but it clambered back to third less colourfully than did the fourth-place Puma, whose edge over Abu Dhabi widened from 36-31 to 48-39.

Opting for a lonely, eastern course away from the Vietnamese coast, Puma disliked that and charged back toward Vietnam, with skipper Ken Read saying: “It didn’t work and I put my hand up for that.”

Puma managed to nudge out of fifth place and finish two hours, 35 minutes ahead of Abu Dhabi.

As Abu Dhabi’s leg wound down, the media crew member Nick Dana wrote on Friday: “The ‘proximity to finish’ sensor in all of us has gone off. The boat is becoming a bit untidy and tempers are short. The upwind smash-off for the last 600 miles and constant tacking has cut our fuses just a little bit shorter.”

He did note, however, that there had been “dry wit” and “rampant singing”.

“A lot of light wind and upwind,” Walker said of the last stages. “We just crossed the miles off and we are glad to be here.”

Team Sanya, the host team running sixth overall in the race, still made their way toward their home port last evening. As the only boat not newly built for this race, a mere completion would be welcome after it failed to complete either of the first two ocean legs because of a broken hull (first leg) and broken rigging (second leg).

cculpepper@thenational.ae