The tension in the Volvo Ocean Race boiled over today, after the InPort race in Lisbon, Portugal, after a controversial penalty soon after the start, relegated former overall race leader, Telefonica back to sixth place in the race.
The incident came seconds after the start, when Telefonica, sailed by Iker Martinez, an Olympic Gold and Silver medalist in the 49er skiff class, sailed through to leeward of Puma Ocean Racing (Ken Read).
Puma was to windward and became overlapped as the result of Telefonica's actions. As such Puma became the windward boat and must keep clear. However because she created the overlap by sailing to leeward, Telefonica is not allowed to sail above her proper course. (A technical term generally meaning a course a yacht would sail to reach the next mark as quickly as possible. There can be several 'proper courses'.)
From the video of the incident Telefonica appeared to luff a little, or Puma bore away (it was difficult to tell precisely as the video cameras had pulled away from the incident at the time of the action, so all that could be seen was how the overlap was established and the incident itself, where the boats appeared to be on a collision course, but no contact occurred.)
But in a replay available on Volvo Ocean Race 3D Viewer, it is clear that Puma was in the 'clear ahead' as she cleared the start line. Telefonica sailed through to leeward, luffed above a proper course, and Puma responded but not by a similar amount of luffing action. On that basis it would seem that Telefonica infringed RRS 17 and was correctly penalised. The skipper of Puma, Ken Read, is a former America's Cup helmsman, and the move by Telefonica was a basic match racing move.
In statement posted on the Telefonica team website skipper Iker Martinez was outraged by the decision which cost five vital points, and increased the margin between Telefonica, and new overall leader of the Volvo Ocean Race, Groupama (Franck Cammas).
Martinez was backed up by the team's rules expert Luis Sáenz: 'My conclusion is that the umpires have made a serious error here and confused a leeward tack by 'Puma' to hoist the spinaker with a luff by 'Telefónica'' (sic)
The report posted on the team website continued: 19 knots of breeze were blowing in the River Tajo today as the tide began to come in, at the predicted time of 12:00 UTC. That's when the eighth inshore race so far of the Volvo Ocean Race kicked off. It took place in Lisbon with a course marked out originally along 18.6 miles, split into four legs, but after 40 minutes of racing, the regatta was cut down to 11.6 nautical miles.
The race began with the spinakers hoisted, a downwind course and that was good for 'Telefónica'. However, an early penalty which skipper Iker Martínez has qualified as 'totally incorrect', forced the Spanish boat to make a turn of 360º that wiped out any possibilities they may have had in the race, despite some good sailing. 'A penalty with these winds, a few seconds after the start totally blows you out of the water', said Martínez.
'We had to make a penalty turn at the start which obviously pushed us right to the back of the race', explains the Basque skipper, back on shore. 'The level at which we're sailing the inshores now is much higher than it was previously and for that we were fairly happy, but today what threw out our chances in the race was quite simply a decision by the International Jury'.
The person in charge of rules and regulations on Team Telefónica is Luis Sáenz Mariscal. He explained what happened in the following terms: 'What the umpire is saying is that we infringed Rule 17 which says that if an overlap occurs from clear astern you mustn't sail above your proper course. My conclusion is that the umpires have made a serious error here and confused a leeward tack by 'Puma' to hoist the spinaker with a luff by 'Telefónica'.
In the Spaniard's opinion: 'They said what they saw on the water and they say that out on the water they saw a luff by 'Telefónica' which meant that they weren't able to keep clear of 'Puma', but the reality is that in cases like these, the rules are structured in a very simple fashion.
There is a basic rule, which is the Windward-Leeward rule. Leeward has the right of way over windward. We were leeward and 'Puma' was windward. 'Puma' had to keep clear and they did absolutely nothing to keep clear. Then there are a series of limitations which state that we can't luff too forcefully, that we can't sail above our proper course... but these are exceptions applied in case of doubt and in this case 'Puma' did nothing to keep clear and there was a moment where they did not halt the hoisting of the spinaker and it touched our shrouds'.
In any case, as the lawyer points out: 'The umpire's decision is final and the matter is closed out on the water. There is nothing to be done and there is no channel for a redress or an appeal'.
'Groupama' won the race, about which Iker Martínez said that they sailed a great race. 'I congratulate them, and they've also boosted their lead by five points, which is an important advantage for them'. American team 'Puma' finished second and is now six points from Martínez and co in the overall rankings. The podium was finished off by 'Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand'.
The penultimate leg kicks off tomorrow
The eighth and penultimate leg in this edition of the round the world race starts tomorrow at 12:00 UTC and 13:00 local time in Lisbon.
It will take the boats across 1, 940 miles from Lisbon to Lorient, home of 'Groupama', and the crew on 'Telefónica' are now completely focussed on it.
'We'll start a new leg tomorrow and we have to give it all we've got, as always. Out on the water there are things that come up and different possibilities which open up, but here on shore, until we take the start we have to prepare as best we can, rest up and make good sail choices etc. to then go on to compete at one hundred per cent on the leg. That is what we are going to do, as angry and disappointed as we might feel today. We feel that this is completely unjust but all we can do now is focus on tomorrow and prepare as best we can', said Martínez.
More Quotes Iker Martínez, skipper
I think that it's very unfair that this happens, because the inshore races can decide the round the world regatta, although it's the same for us all. The juries need to take the correct decisions and I'm one hundred per cent sure that today's was a totally incorrect decision. I hope there'll be no complaining later that the regatta rested on these points, which is something that could happen.
Xabi Fernández, trimmer.
It was a difficult start, and downwind starts are always tricky and you don't have as much control over the situation. It was a very tight start, especially with 'Puma', and everyone was lined up. Before the start 'Puma' had won the position over us, so they made a better start. Just after the start there was an incident in which they came up very close to us as they were hoisting their spinaker and as we were leeward we protested, thinking that they would be penalised for it. Of course we didn't agree with this at all, but we had to take the penalty and that's when we trailed behind in the race and it was very difficult.
Tomorrow the eighth and penultimate leg begins with a lot to play for. It's a fairly short leg where we are likely to get a mix of conditions. We'll set off with breeze and then we head for the Azores where there won't be any and then as we exit it's likely to pick up again. It's an incredibly important leg and today we dropped some important points on 'Groupama', but I hope we'll have a good leg. Everything slipped away today because of a decision by an International Jury and I don't think we sailed badly, so we're positive about tomorrow. by Sail-World