If there was ever any doubt Team Alvimedica and its young American leaders—skipper Charlie Enright and watch captain Mark Towill—were ready for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, those doubts were put to rest Saturday as the team won the opening in-port event in Alicante, Spain.
In many ways, the win reflected the way Enright, Towill and the rest of the crew have been approaching the race since the day the team was announced—work hard, sail well, stay cool and let the chips fall where they may. Despite the fact it was the team’s first real taste of Volvo Ocean Race competition, their performance couldn’t have been more professional.
The 7.8-mile inshore sprint in 14-knot winds began with a daring port-tack start by Dongfeng Race Team that shot the Chinese-flagged boat out to an early lead. At the same time, Alvimedica found itself in the middle of the seven-boat fleet following a conservative mid-line start, but that was fine with Enright.
“Try to stay out of trouble—that was the aim,” he said. “We didn't have the greatest start, but we wanted to give ourselves options. The pin end was really favored, and we just tried to avoid the clump and give ourselves a chance. We took our time on the maneuvers, tried to keep it simple and kept on chipping away."
After that, at the first windward mark the Chinese still held the lead, with a marginal advantage over Team Vestas Wind. But on the subsequent downwind leg, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing split with the rest of the fleet by going right, a move that put skipper Ian Walker and company clearly in the lead when it came to round the leeward mark.
Unfortunately for Abu Dhabi, when it came time to choose sides again for the downwind leg the second time around, right didn’t pay anywhere near as well, and Abu Dhabi and Alvimedica were neck and neck as they rounded the leeward mark a second time. After that it was all Alvimedica as they made it first to the windward mark and led the rest of the way home.
At one point it looked like Abu Dhabi would successfully steal Enright’s wind, but the young Alvimedica crew did a great job working the handles to trim the gennaker coming out of a last-minute gybe and managed to stay in the lead.
“We were at risk of being rolled by Abu Dhabi, but we couldn't have played it much differently,” Enright said. “The boys ripped that sail around real fast, and luckily we got going again just in time.” In the end, it was Alvimedica over Abu Dhabi by a nail-biting six seconds, followed by Spain’s Mapfre team, with Volvo veteran Iker Martinez at the helm, 19 seconds after that. The all-women team aboard Swedish-flagged Team SCA finished a little over a minute later in sixth.
Next up is the first offshore leg, a 6,487-mile marathon from Alicante down to Cape Down, South Africa, Saturday, October 7. For a preview of what the fleet will have to overcome on the first major trial of the 2014-15 VOR, click here. For video of the entire race, click here.