Telefonica extends lead in Ocean Race
SANYA, China (AP) -- World sailor of the year Iker Martinez survived the toughest conditions of his career on Saturday to become the second skipper in 22 years to win the first three legs of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Spain's Team Telefonica won the stage from Abu Dhabi to China, with Martinez matching New Zealander Peter Blake's achievement in the 1989-90 edition.
After just less than 13 days of sailing, Team Telefonica beat French challengers Groupama by about 90 minutes, with the rest of the fleet on course to finish later Saturday and Sunday morning.
Telefonica has 95 points overall with seven legs remaining. Camper (Spain/New Zealand) was expected to finish third in the leg to maintain second place with 80 points.
Martinez, an Olympic double medalist who won gold in Athens in 2004, said the route through the treacherous Malacca Strait which connects the Pacific and Indian Oceans between Indonesia and Malaysia had been stressful.
It is a notoriously busy shipping lane and is filled with floating and submerged garbage and debris.
"It was by far the most dangerous leg I've ever done in a boat," Martinez told The Associated Press. "Malacca Strait in a sailing boat and racing is not the right way to do it. That was putting ourselves in a lot of difficult situations - that's why we are so happy. And now we start feeling more relaxed."
Navigator Andrew Cape added: "That was a toughie. Right from the top of Sumatra it's been really difficult. There were so many hazards and you can't take your eye off the ball for one second because that's when bad things happen."
Halfway through the leg - which was split into two as the fleet was transported by armed ship in the Indian Ocean due to the piracy threat - Telefonica looked out of the running after a split in the crucial Code Zero sail.
But after making onboard repairs, it was back to business as usual as the Spanish crew swept through the fleet, taking charge after the Malacca Strait section. Telefonica also won the legs from Alicante to Cape Town and Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.
Martinez, voted 2011 sailor of the year with crewmate Xabi Fernandez, said he had not realized he had matched the achievement of Blake, who went on to win the 1989-90 edition with Steinlager 2.
"I didn't know that, but for sure we're feeling great. We're very happy. It's a dream. You always dream to start a race like this. I just hope everything is going to keep going smooth," Martinez said.
The nine-month, 39-nautical mile race visits 10 ports in as many countries, four oceans and five continents and is scheduled to finish in Galway, Ireland on July 8.