The Start is Finally Here - Vestas 11th Hour Racing begin the Volvo Ocean Race
"The anticipation had been building since we finished the last edition and the start is finally here," said Mark Towill (USA), Team Director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing. The first ocean leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Alicante, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal started on Sunday. The 1450nm course will take the seven competing teams through the Strait of Gibraltar and around the small island of Porto Santo, close to Madeira, before heading directly to Lisbon.
Americans Charlie Enright and Towill have been working together on building a stronger team since their "young gun" team finished fourth in the last Volvo Ocean Race in 2015. "We won the last leg, and we rounded Cape Horn first, which were two huge milestones for us, and highlighted our growth as a team," said Skipper Enright. "So we took what we learned and surrounded ourselves with even more experience and talent." The 11-person crew of Vestas 11th Hour Racing boasts 23 Volvo Ocean Races and six wins in this grueling race.
"The depth of our crew is a huge asset to our team," continues Enright. That could not have been truer on Friday when the team had to swap two-time Volvo Ocean Race winner, Phil Harmer (AUS) for another Volvo Ocean Race winner, Damian Foxall (IRL), due to a medical issue. This exchange resulted in the need to also substitute Jena Hansen (DEN) for Hannah Diamond (UK) to comply with the safety rules that require two medics onboard.
Action in Alicante
Vestas 11th Hour Racing has been in Alicante since arriving from the Prologue Leg on the 11th of October. "It's always great to be in Alicante," said Australian sailor Tom Johnson, coming off his America's Cup campaign with Oracle Team USA. "The crowds and local support here are a great way to kick off the race."
As a new feature for this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, the public has access to all the team bases. The ground floor of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing base includes the Exploration Zone, a dedicated educational space, where the public can enjoy a hands-on experience to learn more about renewable energy and ocean health, through the means of wind and water. From virtual reality goggles to interactive displays, the space has been a favorite attraction among the visitors to the Race Village with over 1,000 people experiencing the Exploration Zone each day.
As part of the team's commitment to spreading the message of sustainability, sailors from Vestas 11th Hour Racing and local students met with a local environmental organization, Asociación De Naturalistas Del Sureste (ANSE). They toured their wooden sailing vessel, Else, equipped to monitor and protect endangered species, study pollution effects on plants and animals, and implement coastal restoration projects. Hannah Diamond was among the sailors who learned about ANSE's endeavors: "I was most surprised that here in the Mediterranean there are sperm whales that are bigger than our Volvo Ocean 65."
Ocean health and the global issue of plastic pollution were the themes of the Ocean Summit that took place in Alicante this week as well. Mark Towill presented as a keynote speaker, in the first of a series of seven throughout the race, reflecting on his personal experiences at sea - addressing a full house of event stakeholders and representatives from media, NGOs, government and the private sector.
The crew of Vestas 11th Hour Racing crossed the starting line at 1400 CET in a strong position for the Leg One in a steady 15-knot northeasterly breeze in the Bay of Alicante. The seven boats first rounded three in-shore marks in tight racing conditions with Vestas 11th Hour Racing battling it around in the top four positions the entire time. After one hour of inshore racing, including a penalty against Brunel and MAPFRE, Vestas 11th Hour Racing rounded the final mark in second place just 20 meters behind Dongfeng Racing. Now they are headed southwest towards the Strait of Gibraltar, 300nm away, expecting to arrive Monday night.
"You can't win the race going through Gibraltar, but you sure can lose it," says Simon Fisher, affectionately known as SiFi. "Between shipping, strong currents, and accelerating wind, the 30-mile stretch can be quite extreme." The recent Volvo Ocean Race winner has been devising a playbook of how to navigate the leg with the help of historical data and meteorological assistance from the team's title sponsor, Vestas.
"With over 60,000 wind turbines in 75 countries, we can provide the team with additional weather models based on historical data of how the wind will flow and funnel around in different areas," said Thomas Alsbirk, the Vestas meteorologist who joined the team in Alicante for navigational support.
After exiting Gibraltar, the next milestone of the race will be rounding the Portuguese island of Porto Santo off Madeira, 480nm from Lisbon. The entire race is expected to take 6 to 7 days with the current weather forecast.
It will be an all-out sprint for the teams to put the first points on the board, because not only is there high-point scoring for finishes but also one bonus point shall be awarded to the winner of each Leg and to the lowest overall elapsed time for the Race.
"We are ready to go, the boat is packed, the gear is on the hook," said Stacey Jackson before leaving the dock. The Australian sailor embarking on her second Volvo continued "we're as prepared as we'll ever be and now we're ready to just get to it. One stopover down, 11 more to go."
How to Follow the Race
Social Media: Volvo Ocean Race be live at 1330 local time (1130 UTC) each day on their facebook page. We will be posting to our social networks: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter each day. Follow @Vestas11thHourRacing.
Image: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race