MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP) emerged victorious despite a pair of major setbacks in Leg 4 following one of the tightest-fought finishes in Volvo Ocean Race history on Saturday night.
The victory gives the 2014-15 edition its fourth winner in four legs following successes for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED), and Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA).
All those wins in the first three stages have been hard-fought but none more so than this latest leg win for the Spanish boat, claimed at 2131 local time/0931 UTC after 5,264 nautical miles (nm) and 20 days, two hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds of sailing from Sanya, China to Auckland.
Stand-in skipper Xabi Fernández could not have chosen a better stage to guide his crew to victory with just four minutes 25 seconds to spare from Walker’s men, who had the consolation of becoming overall leaders thanks to a better in-port race series record than Dongfeng Race Team.
“We’re super happy to be here, and of course, it was a very tough leg,” said Xabi. “We had a very hard last day especially, but we’re very happy to be here.
“We have improved a lot over the last two legs. We have a very good team and I hope we can now show to the world what we can do and keep doing it like this.”
Auckland is known as the ‘City of Sails’ and the locals came out in their tens of thousands both on and off the water, fresh from cheering their cricket team to victory over Australia in the World Cup earlier in the day.
For so much of a leg which started in Sanya on February 8, MAPFRE had looked the most unlikely of winners.
They lost full communications for three days when a problem emerged with their antennae, which prevented them from receiving full weather data to help them plot the optimum course.
This, with the help of the Race HQ technology staff plus partners Cobham, was eventually fixed, but they also suffered a major injury problem on board when under-30 crew member Guillermo ‘Wily’ Altadill (ESP) badly hurt his hand.
It was put in a splint and Altadill, 22, will see a doctor on Sunday to discover if he has broken it.
“I’m going to the doctors in the morning – after the party,” he said, the pain dulled by the euphoria of victory.
Walker, meanwhile, will be satisfied with his second runners-up spot in a row, and a fourth podium place. His crew skirmished with MAPFRE all day on Saturday, but could not quite overhaul the Spanish crew despite reducing the deficit to within 1nm at times.
Equally, they narrowly staved off third-placed Dongfeng Race Team by less than four minutes.
Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) claimed fourth, just under 1hr 20mins behind Dongfeng, with Team Brunel and Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) bringing up the rear in ever lighter winds.
*Image credits: Volvo Ocean Race/Power Sport Images/Sam Greenfield