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MAPFRE sailing in the North Atlantic and heading to Newport - Spaniard Carlos Hernández (under 30 sailor, trimmer/bowman) shows his hands to the camera
The Spanish team crossed the Equator on 28th April at 02:55 UTC. 3,000 nautical miles remain ahead of them en-route to Newport

North Atlantic Ocean, 28th April 2015

After nine days of racing and half-way through Leg 6, “MAPFRE” is holding on to third place, and in the midst of an intense head-to-head battle with the rest of the fleet, which is spread out in less than 25 miles. The fleet is at the Doldrums, then the northeasterly trade winds will come, followed by the final approach into Newport (United States).

From the very first few miles it was already clear that this was going to be no easy leg. “MAPFRE” opted to sail further offshore to tap into stronger winds. Situated to the north, the Spanish team’s strategy paid off, having been forced during the first night to make a key decision: when to start making for the east. They moved to the front of the fleet and into the lead.

A speed race began in the South Atlantic, and the crew, skippered by Xabi Fernández in this sixth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, were focused on a wind shift which allowed them to head north. The first team to make the most of it would have the cards stacked in their favour.

It was a long wait. The fleet were sailing in single file and the helm became an essential role, as André Fonseca explained: “This part of the race is like a bend in Formula 1 where the car is going full throttle and the weight of the pilot makes a huge difference.”

Xabi Fernández was quite clear, “we knew that it was going to be a really tough leg because we were going to be sailing down to the millimetre. I don’t know when we will get the chance to start moving away from each other, but we’ll have to wait.”

Just 24 hours after the single file split, “MAPFRE” had placed themselves in the middle of the fleet to control their rivals. After 1,200 miles and various days waiting for the wind to shift, the final change in wind direction meant the fleet could finally tack and start heading north along the Brazilian coast. However, as Xabi explained, “the fleet are still all in sight of each other, and it’s the same old story: we have to sail down to the millimetre, and it’s never enough.”

“MAPFRE” moved east of a group of five boats who could still see each other on the AIS. Only “Alvimedica”, the first boat to tack, stayed west whilst the light winds were pushing the other six boats in the pack to the very limit.

A week after the leg start, “MAPFRE” jumped forwards and into third place. On board the crew had their sights set on the Equator.

“We are sailing with very good conditions up to the Equator. In two or three days we will have to pass through some areas of very light winds, and it will be one of the most important moments of the race,” explained the Basque skipper.

However, before moving into the northern hemisphere the Doldrums (the area of equatorial calms) needed to be tackled. But it is good news: “The forecast is that the Doldrums shouldn’t give us too much trouble. It doesn’t look like there are any really intense areas of light wind: it might drop off a little, but not so much, and we should be able to keep going straight” added Xabi.

All said and done, the Spanish team crossed the equator at 02.55 UTC on 28th April. MAPFRE and the rest of the fleet are now faced with a new challenge: how to negotiate the last 3,000 nautical miles en route to Newport.

Photo : © Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race
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