While the team powered to the front after the first night out of Alicante and maintained pole position throughout the week, the final approach to Portugal was not an easy one.
That’s because the wind shut down on the final approach, and what had been a lead of 34 nautical miles over second-placed MAPFRE was whittled down to just 10 miles over the course of this morning.
With the finish so close and yet so far, with the current in the river even pushing the leaders back out to sea at times, the crew on the Vestas boat — among them Ireland's own Damian Foxall — held their nerve, tacking first up and then down, zigzagging towards the line, into agonisingly light headwinds.
The effort paid off for American skipper Charlie Enright and his team, who earn seven points plus a bonus point for the leg win for a total of eight on the board.
"It's incredible," said Mark Towill, Team Director, from on board the boat moments before the finish.
"What a way to kick off the event,” said tram director Mark Towill from the boat moments before it crossed the finish line.
“It's been an incredible performance for the team … It’s been a challenging leg. We still have a lot to improve and long way to go... Today is our day, we'll enjoy it, but then we have to get back to work and focus on the next leg.”
Vestas 11th Hour Racing – which carries US and Danish flags – also becomes the first American flagged team to win Leg 1, as well as the first Danish team to win a leg, while Charlie Enright is the third American skipper to win the first leg, after John Kostecki in 2001 and Paul Cayard in 1997.
“We try not to get too high or too low,” Enright said just after crossing the line. “We want to keep coming to work every day hungry to improve... one of the things we were focusing on was our decision making and communications on board and that’s coming along well... But there’s a lot of work to be done. We won't rest on our laurels!”
Continued light conditions near the shore are forecast to slow the pace of the Spanish MAPFRE team, which is expected to finish after 5pm Irish time. The Volvo Ocean Race website will be covering their arrival into Lisbon live this evenng and tomorrow.
- Vestas 11th Hour Racing - Finished 14:08.45 UTC
- MAPFRE + 9.3 nm
- Dongfeng Race Team +20.3
- team AkzoNobel +24.1
- Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag +44.2
- Team Brunel +66.4
- Turn the Tide on Plastic +67.3