Cowes – Five Volvo Ocean Race boats are currently neck and neck in the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland race, which began at 0900 this morning.
Our fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s is leading the monohulls as they exit the English Channel. Currently in front is the Spanish team – whose title sponsor has yet to be announced – skippered by Iker Martínez, and Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Race Team are a close runner-up.
In third place, Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are pushing the front two hard, and being pursued by the all-female Team SCA. Rhode Island’s Team Alvimedica, skippered by Charlie Enright, currently find themselves some way behind their rivals in fifth position.
To find out more, go to the official race tracker.
The event, which marks the first time that so many of the new Volvo Ocean Race 65s have raced against each other, was originally due to start a day earlier, at midday on Sunday – but was pushed back due to stormy weather blowing in from across the Atlantic.
And despite the warmer and more settled conditions today, the race route was reversed, which means that the fleet will sail anti-clockwise around the isles, rather than the traditional clockwise.
In spite of the changes, the boats were still faced with strong winds, and that meant that they had no problems slipping quickly into race mode – with Team SCA grabbing pole position during the early exchanges.
Despite pressure from Dongfeng Race Team and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the girls held their own – and as the boats passed Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower, they hung on to a narrow lead.
But the gap to first place was soon closed by their rivals, and a late charge from the Spanish team saw Martínez’s crew edge ahead following an underwhelming start.
It was a fast and ferocious beginning to proceedings by the teams, and the tricky conditions were underlined by news of an injury to Dongfeng Race Team’s Pascal Bidégorry.
The experienced French navigator collided with another crew member, lost balance and fell, injuring his hand. The resulting cut required four stitches.
Team Alvimedica’s Will Oxley, who has completed two campaigns previously, spoke before the beginning of the race about the difficulties that the notoriously testing route would raise.
“It’s a great race track, one of the best in the world, and from a navigator’s perspective, it’s very, very busy,” he said.
“It will also give us more time to work together, to tackle decisions, and go through the decision-making process, so that it is as smooth as it can be come race time in the Volvo Ocean Race.”
And his team made one big decision earlier this week, as they announced their final crew member ahead of the first leg October start in Alicante.
Matt Noble, a 28-year-old San Francisco native, will be onboard for the race around Britain – and has known his skipper for a long time.
“Sure, I’ve sailed with Charlie (Enright) and Mark (Towill) in the past – I crossed the Atlantic with them a few years ago,” explains Matt.
“Even then, they said that their goal was to get a Volvo Ocean Race campaign together – so when I heard they’d succeeded, I was really happy for them.”
So was his addition a long time coming, or was he surprised to receive the call from his skipper?
“I knew that there was a core of sailors who they’d be considering for the crew, and I was stoked to find out that my name was a little higher up that list than I thought!”
The announcement of Noble, who is currently engaged to be married and is due to get married next summer, is the second crew addition to the race in a week following Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s recruitment of seasoned Kiwi Daryl Wislang a couple of days earlier.
The team, skippered by Ian Walker, has also confirmed that Matt Knighton will fill the role of Onboard Reporter.
Having raced with third-placed Telefónica Blue and second-placed Camper in previous additions, 33-year-old bowman Daryl brings a wealth of experience to Azzam – and is keen to grab his first Volvo Ocean Race trophy.
“The real reason I’m back is the fact that I haven’t won one yet,” he says.
“It’s time to put that right, and I’m confident that the Abu Dhabi team gives me the best chance of that.”
For full details of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race visit the official website.