Princess Letizia to christen Telefónica ahead of qualifying race

Team Telefonica arrive in Alicante for the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.
Volvo Ocean Race/Paul Todd©
Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia will bring a touch of royalty to the Volvo Ocean Race before the most competitive fleet ever assembled lines up for the first time in a qualifying race from Alicante, Spain starting tomorrow.

Princess Letizia will be declared the godmother of Team Telefónica during a christening ceremony at the Alicante Race Village from 1000 GMT (1200 local time).

The Princess will also present a Spanish flag to Team Telefónica, skippered by Olympic gold medallist Iker Martínez, before joining Prince Felipe, an Olympic sailor himself and the heir to the Spanish throne, to inspect the fleet.

Following the ceremony Team Telefónica will join Team Sanya, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion, Groupama sailing team and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand ahead of the start at 1500.

Alicante Mayor Sonia Castedo and the President of the Generalitat Valenciana Alberto Fabra will also attend the start of the race.

Race Director Jack Lloyd said the purpose of the race, which will not see any points awarded, is to ensure safety systems are checked before the teams take on the 39,000 nautical mile circumnavigation through the world’s most hostile oceans.

The teams will perform several tasks including a man-overboard drill aimed at testing the teams’ competence and the race’s new man-overboard identification system. They will also test their emergency steering system and storm sails during the race to Palma, Mallorca and back.

'The qualifying race is an additional safety requirement that we decided to introduce following the 2008-09 race and it has been well received by the sailors,' said Lloyd.

'The aim is to ensure the safety gear, safety procedures and media equipment are tried and tested ahead of the first In-Port Race. We’ve removed certain rules like scoring but it is the first opportunity the teams have had to sail as a complete fleet.’’

For some skippers the chance to finally put their boats and crew to the test against the entire fleet could be tempting but a desire to keep sail design, yacht features and manoeuvres secret until scoring begins will also come into play.

'I would suggest that whenever you put a fleet of these boats with these sailors on board they’re always going to want to race,’’ said Ian Walker, skipper of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing boat Azzam.

CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson agreed, saying: 'It’s easy to say now we’ll just treat it as a training sail, but it’s the old story that when you get on the starting line with someone else it’s all on.'

Team Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson could still play some role in the race, despite having emergency surgery for acute appendicitis last week. 'If I’m well enough I’d like to do a couple of laps around the bay and then get off the boat before the team heads out to sea,' Sanderson said.

The qualifying race will start in front of Alicante’s Playa del Postiguet at 1300 GMT on Friday. The fleet will complete an inshore course to Cabo de las Huertas and back to the start, before sailing past Isla Tabarca to Palma and returning to Alicante. The fleet is expected to cross the finish line early Sunday, October 9.

The first In-Port Race starts in Alicante on October 29. The teams will then face 6,500 nautical miles of gruelling racing from Alicante through the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa in the first of the nine offshore legs.

FRIDAY SCHEDULE - GMT
0800 – Alicante Race Village opens to the media
0845-0915 – Skipper interviews in the Mixed Media Zone
0935 – Departure ceremony and crew parade commences
1000-1015* – Royal blessing of Team Telefónica
1030 – Yachts depart Volvo Open 70 Marina
1300 – Qualifying race starts

* Times are approximate and may be subject to change.


Skipper Quotes:

Team Telefónica skipper Iker Martinez
'We really want to go and sail against the others, but the purpose of the qualifier is to test our safety systems. Once everyone is close together we will try to do our best for sure but this is really just a leg to try and do everything we need to do for safety during racing. It’s just a training race but for sure, we’re going to be 100 per cent after we do all those safety requirements.'

Groupama sailing team skipper Franck Cammas
'It’s a practice. We have to do a man-overboard exercise so it’s not exactly a race, but it is the first time we see all the boats together, which is very important. We want to be fast so we fight for that, but we’ll see.'

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion skipper Ken Read
'I don’t know of any race that has done this before. It’s called a practice race but the only thing we’re not practising is racing. Volvo has created a bunch of scenarios that we should practise, that you hope will never happen, but the fact is that it’s going to happen to some boats in the race. It’s unique, but it’s a really, really good idea.'

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker
'I would suggest that whenever you put a fleet of these boats with these sailors on board they’re always going to want to race. The real question is whether you use your race sails or training sails. I think we’ll probably use largely our old sails just to save hours. But I think there’s quite a good argument for using our new mainsail just because you settle it in, you get the rig tuned and optimised.'

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson
'It’s easy to say now we’ll just treat it as a training sail but it’s the old story that when you get on the starting line with someone else it’s all on. But we’ve got certain things we need to keep quiet about for a little bit. But essentially we’ll race it absolutely as much as we can.'

Team Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson
'For us it’s a great opportunity to go out, do some sailing around the other boats, get a feel for our strengths and weaknesses and get back into race mode. We will know when we’re going 100 per cent and when we’re backed off. I think the teams will put their best foot forward. I think it’s going to be fascinating.'

For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit www.volvooceanrace.com