Endurance test

Crews in the Volvo Ocean Race are preparing for the long run from Lisbon to Cape Town, which gets underway on Sunday.

Written by Scott Alle
Photography by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

31 October 2017


Vestas 11th Hour Racing have vowed to keep the hammer down following their big win on Leg 1, beating favourites MAPFRE and Dong Feng into Lisbon by two-and-a-half hours.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. We won’t rest on our laurels,” Enright told the race’s official website. “We want to keep coming to work every day hungry to improve.”

The next leg is a 7,000 nautical mile run south, starting from Lisbon and going from the coast of Portugal to Cape Town at the southern tip of the mighty African continent. It’s a classic north to south Atlantic run, passing through multiple Climate Zones.

Depending on the position of the Azores High, the fleet could pick up the trade winds off the start in Lisbon and ride them all the way south – fast, fun sailing in glorious conditions. But if the high pressure is sitting over Lisbon, they could find themselves struggling for speed in the light winds. In this case the race will be on to reach the trades first – slow, stressful and highly tactical.



The Leg 1 victory is a big boost for Vestas’ American skipper Charlie Enright and his team, who earn 8 points for their labours (including a one point ‘bonus’ for winning the leg).

It wasn’t easy. Nearing the end of the 1,450-mile effort from Alicante in Spain, the wind shut down on the final approach, and an early morning lead of 34-nautical miles over second-placed MAPFRE was whittled down to 10-miles, with the finish in sight, but the current in the river even pushing the leaders back out to sea in some of the lulls.

But the crew on the Vestas boat held their nerve, tacking first up and then down, zigzagging towards the line, into agonisingly light headwinds, and finally securing victory with MAPFRE in turn just starting to slow down, still some 9-miles back.

“It’s incredible,” said Mark Towill, Team Director, from on board the boat moments before the finish.

“What a way to kick off the event. it’s been an incredible performance for the team… It’s been a challenging leg. We still have a lot to improve and long way to go… Today is our day, we’ll enjoy it, but then we have to get back to work and focus on the next leg.”

Charlie Enright is the third American skipper to win Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race. The others were John Kostecki, on illbruck in 2001-02, and Paul Cayard on EF Language in 1997-98. Both of those teams went on to an overall victory – so the omens for Charlie Enright are certainly good.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing – which carries US and Danish flags – are the first American flagged team to win Leg 1. They are also the first Danish team to win a leg.

“We have a long way to go certainly, but this was a good way to start,” said skipper Charlie Enright. “SiFi (navigator Simon Fisher) did a great job. He didn’t really make any missteps. But every sked is nerve-wracking, especially when you’re stuck in a river going backwards!

“But we pride ourselves on not getting too high or too low and I think we executed that on this leg. It’s about having confidence in ourselves and committing to the process and now we’re starting to see the results of that.”

The winners weren’t the only team to have an excruciating finish experience. When MAPFRE was within 1.5 miles of the line, they too ran out of wind and had to watch Dongfeng Race Team rush into the river behind them. With only a small lead as a buffer, the tension for Spanish fans was rising fast.

But as Vestas did before them, the MAPFRE crew found a little zephyr of wind to finish 15-minutes ahead of the Chinese team.

There was last minute drama for Hong Kong boat Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, running aground before the crew staged a novel recovery to finish in the Tagus River.

Over the closing stages David Witt’s yacht attempted to pass AkzoNobel  by sailing in toward the shore.

But the plan backfired and Scallywag had to kedge after running aground.

Scallywag eventually finished fifth in the seven-yacht fleet. “I’ve never finished like that before,” Witt said. “We tried to get AkzoNobel by coming down the shore there, went in pretty close and then we got stuck on the bottom.

“Parko [Luke Parkinson] and Alex [Gough] had to swim out into the channel with the anchor to get us off the bottom, so we could the drop our sails and drift across the finish line.

But we’re really happy. We were in there for most of it. We’re on the up. We’re getting better. Look out in a couple of legs’ time.”


Leg 1 – Final Results

  1. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA), FINISHED — 14:08.45 UTC
  2. MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP), FINISHED — 16:42.30 UTC
  3. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA, FINISHED — 16:57:48 UTC
  4. Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED), FINISHED — 18:11:56 UTC
  5. Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS), FINISHED — 18:57:44 UTC
  6. Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED), FINISHED — 20:29:00 UTC
  7. Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR), FINISHED – 20:36:52 UTC


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