Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Volvo 70 Abu Dhabi Wins Line Honours in Rolex Fastnet

It wasn't enough for Olympic Sailor Ian Walker to steer the Volvo 70 Abu Dhabi across the finish line first but he has also smashed the Fastnet monohull race record previously held by ICAP Leopard.
VO70 Abu Dhabi Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
Under a drizzly, overcast sky the distinctively painted VO70 crossed the finish line at Plymouth at 07:49:00 BST this morning, just under five minutes ahead of Franck Cammas’ VO70 Groupama 4 (FRA) and in turn broke the 2007 record set by ICAP Leopard by one hour and 39 minutes.
ICAP Leopard Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
The three Volvo Open 70s overtook ICAP Leopard in 20-30 knot winds as they headed across to Bishop Rock.

The race was an opportunity for the three Volvo Open 70s to pit themselves against each other for the first before they face off in the round the world race that starts in October. Around the 608-mile course the three -Abu Dhabi, Groupama 4, and Team Sanya, skippered by former Volvo Ocean Race winner  Mike Sanderson - held the lead for parts of the race
Ian Walker accepts his prize  Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
“It was wet. From half-way across the Irish Sea to the [Fastnet] rock and back was flat out. I think our average was into the 20s, blast reaching, and we definitely hit 30 knots on a couple of occasions. And it was a great race,” said Ian Walker.

They shared the lead with the French VO70 along the south coast of the UK while Team Sanya pulled ahead after cutting the corner at Land’s End. Abu Dhabi then regained the lead before rounding the Fastnet Rock, to be overhauled again by Groupama 4 on the reach back to the Scilly Isles.  Abu Dhabi sped past Groupama 4 as they rounded the Lizard this morning, to finish just 4 minutes and 42 seconds ahead of them, with Team Sanya coming in an hour later.
Groupama 4 Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
“It is fantastic to win this race. When you have 100-footers, normally no one gets a look in, so to win it on a 70 foot boat is pretty cool,” Walker said on his arrival into Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour. “And it is nice to do a race. I haven’t done one for about a year and I can’t remember the last time I won one. It is also especially good for the shore crew and all the people who have been working 12 hours a day to build the boat and get us here.”

The race was not without its incidents onboard Abu Dhabi including a flooded engine, a block ripped off the deck and a media computer dropped in the drink. But their troubles were nothing compared to what Team Sanya endured.
Team Sanya Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
Ian Walker reported how while rounding the Fastnet Rock they had had to slow down from 25 knots in order to allow the bowman to change the headsail. When Team Sanya attempted this there were further complications that at one stage forced them to point their bow the opposite way back up the racecourse. They also snapped their main sheet when it chafed through on a newly resurfaced winch, also forcing them into some downtime. Most dramatic of all was when one of the thru-hole fittings in the hull blew off causing a major flood.
Team Sanya Photo: Carlo Borlenghi
“We had tons of water downstairs, so we were hovering bow down, but the rule is great because we have great pumps although they have been used a bit too often in this program,” Team Sanya Skipper Mike Sanderson said.
Sunset sailing Team Sanya Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
Sanderson who won the 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race, but wasn't involved in the 2008-9 event, is excited about returning to the class. “I was a bit apprehensive about coming back and doing the race, but I love it and everything about it. It is a great team and you forget how cool the boats are; doing 30 knots in a 70-footer with another one beside you doing 30 knots. The Volvo boats never cease to amaze. You get back on them and it is like ‘man, these things are quick’. And we are really pleased with the result.”

Groupama 4 made a swift about-turn back towards her base in Lorient, France immediately after finishing. “We had a great race and we fought well. Unfortunately we finished just behind Abu Dhabi,” said skipper Franck Cammas. “It was really interesting to find ourselves competing with our future rivals in the Volvo. We were very close and there should be some interesting battles ahead.”

Lulu Roseman

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