TEAM MAPFRE

Sailing World - - The Volvo Ocean Race -

Xabi Fernán­dez, the se­cond-time skip­per of Mapfre, re­mem­bers well the worst mo­ment of the 2014-15 edi­tion of the Volvo Ocean Race. It was in Cape Town, at the con­clu­sion of Leg 1, and in the pre­ced­ing hours they’d been passed by Team SCA. As they berthed in the basin, the sting of fin­ish­ing last was es­pe­cially sharp.

“I re­mem­ber dock­ing and talk­ing about how this last po­si­tion would be very ex­pen­sive for the whole around the world,” says the Spa­niard, who is em­bark­ing on his fifth Volvo Ocean Race. “We had to re­mind our­selves and our spon­sors that it was not the end of the world, and for sure we would be get­ting bet­ter.”

By the fourth leg of the race, from Sanya, China, to Auck­land, the Spa­niards were a no­tice­ably bet­ter team and won their first and only leg. “It showed that we could win and get on the podium, but as it was, we needed more time.”

That first-leg dis­ap­point­ment, he says, was a byprod­uct of starting the team less than four months be­fore the race start. Be­tween get­ting a crew and un­der­stand­ing the new Volvo Ocean 65, they were be­hind from

the be­gin­ning. But not this time. Fernán­dez is far more con­fi­dent given they’ve been ac­tive since early in the year, have sev­eral re­turn­ing crew mem­bers, top sailors from pre­vi­ous teams, and an all-star nav­i­ga­tor in Juan Vila, who won long ago with ill­bruck.

“I think the last race we had to ac­cept that it wasn’t going to be a good one when we came in so late. We were un­pre­pared and paid for it around the world. We changed some things, started to im­prove, and we were fight­ing for the podium at the end.”

From that strong finish, he says, they now have a proper starting point, and by bring­ing aboard top sailors from other teams, in­clud­ing watch cap­tain Pablo Ar­rarte from Team Brunel, and per­for­mance an­a­lyst Neal Mc­don­ald, they are much fur­ther ahead than any of the other teams. They’re suf­fi­ciently funded, and have been test­ing and train­ing with a full new-sail in­ven­tory, us­ing their time to fine-tune the boat.

Other teams see them as one of the clear fa­vorites along­side Dongfeng, but Fernán­dez doesn’t ac­cept the honor. “I don’t like that role,” he says, “but I’m happy be­cause we have been able to do things prop­erly.”

Fernán­dez’s pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion is to win the race, and this time, he’s look­ing for­ward to sail­ing with a mix of sailors, in­clud­ing the two des­ig­nated fe­males — Team SCA’S So­phie Ciszek and Olympian Tá­mara Echegoyen — as well as 49er gold medal­ist and America’s Cup-win­ning foil trim­mer Blair Tuke. Con­vinc­ing Vila to join is a coup that will shore up the nav­i­ga­tional short­com­ings of the pre­vi­ous race.

“The boats are ba­si­cally even, and ev­ery­thing will be so close that mak­ing the right de­ci­sion at the right time will be crit­i­cal, to seize the mo­ment to tack or jibe and take ad­van­tage of some­thing will be very im­por­tant. Juan can do any­thing on deck; he can drive and trim, and he’s much more com­plete than peo­ple think.”

“The boats are ba­si­cally even, so mak­ing the right de­ci­sion at the right time will be crit­i­cal, to seize the mo­ment to tack or jibe.”

PHOTO : UGO FONOLLA / V O LV O O C E A N R A C E

Sail­ing un­der the ban­ner of Spain’s largest in­sur­ance com­pany once again, with sev­eral re­turn crew and a top-shelf nav­i­ga­tor in place, Team Mapfre is a pre-race fa­vorite.

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