by Richard Crockett
Does it get any closer than this? Well yes, it may still get even closer.
Some of the previous legs have had close finishes, but this was heart-stopping as the three leading boats closed in on the finish – and just 8 minutes separated the top three finishers and 7 hours for the whole fleet of 6 boats. And all this after 5,264nm and 20 days of racing between Sanya & Auckland.
The race has now had four different winners in as many legs, which has proven that the one-design aspect of the race is working well.
The leg winner was MAPFRE skippered by Spaniard Xabi Fernández whose team have, until now, not performed as well as expected.
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 Ian Walker’s men on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 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.”
MAPFRE had problems on the leg, yet these did not appear to have upset them unduly. 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. They also suffered a major injury problem on board when under-30 crew member Guillermo ‘Wily’ Altadill (ESP) badly hurt his hand.
Walker will be satisfied with his second runners-up spot in a row, and a fourth podium place. His crew skirmished with MAPFRE all as they closed the finish line, 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 Brunel ended the fourth leg in fifth place. “A fifth place is not good,” says Bouwe Bekking after the finish in Auckland. “We can’t blame anybody but ourselves. We have made some judgment mistakes. Some decisions didn’t unfold the way we hoped they would. At one point we had a 50nm lead. We decided to gybe to the east based on the weather forecast. That move didn’t work out because the weather didn’t do what we thought it would do. Unfortunately we went from first to fifth position because of that and we had to catch up with the rest of the fleet.”
Team SCA sailed almost the perfect leg, being the first ones to tack north after the Philippines early on in the leg, showing some nerves and great boat-handling skills. “For us, it was the obvious option,” reflects skipper Sam Davies. “We knew this option was there before we left Sanya and we studied how it was developing. It was looking good and it was surprising not to see more teams going north.”
But despite a great first call, the rest of the leg didn’t quite unfold the way the girls wanted it to. That option initially paid off, but they slowly dropped to the back of the fleet, cloud after cloud, gybe after gybe.
Although last in on the leg. Team SCA had their moments. Annie Lush reflects on the leg.
“It was tough, so we decided to take a dive to the north and we were kind of relieved to see someone [Team Brunel] follow us, so at least we had someone alongside us. That was pretty exciting for quite a while, it was going well but unfortunately we didn’t quite take the right moment to cash in on all the gains we made and we ended up in less pressure than we had anticipated.
“I think we dropped the ball when we had a bad night – some clouds, which we didn’t sail too well. As a result they gained some miles and I think that shows what this race is like. It is relentless, it is tough, and you let up for one minute and that’s it – that’s one design racing for you.”
Sally Barkow commented, “I think this leg was good in that we were always in touch with the group and every sked was something to think about, we were sometimes right there, sometimes had some catching up to do, but I definitely think that we have more to give and maybe we can start making some bigger leaps.”
LEG 4 RESULTS
1. MAPFRE (ESP) – 28/02/2015 – 08h31mn20s UTC – 20days 02h 31mn 20s
2. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (UAE) – 28/02/2015 – 08h35mn45s UTC -20days 02h35mn45s
3. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN) – 28/02/2015 – 08h39mn22S UTC – 20days 02h39mn22s
4. Team Alvimedica (USA/TUR) – 28/02/2015 – 09h58mn08S UTC – 20days 03h58mn08s
5. Team Brunel (NED) – 28/02/2015 – 12h30mn30S UTC – 20days 06h30mn30s
6. Team SCA (SWE) – 28/02/2015 – 15h32mn25S UTC – 20days 09h32mn25s
VOLVO OCEAN RACE SCOREBOARD
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 8pts
2. Dongfeng Race Team – 8pts
3. Team Brunel – 14pts
4. MAPFRE – 16 pts
5. Team Alvimedica – 16 pts
6. Team SCA – 24pts
7. Team Vestas Wind – 28pts – Did not start Leg 3 and 4