Leg 02, Lisbon to Cape Town, day 00, on board Vestas 11th Hour. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 05 November, 2017. wet and windy start
What’s a Volvo Ocean Race team director to do when one of his starters is put on the injured reserve before the start of a crucial 7,000-mile leg from Lisbon to Cape Town? Simple: Find the guy who can practically do it in his sleep.
For Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Mark Towill, the search to fill teammate Phil Harmer’s sea boots led to Spaniard Roberto Bermúdez de Castro, a six-time veteran and two-time winner of the race who happened to be looking for a ride to Cape Town. Weeks earlier, before the race start, Bermúdez de Castro parted ways with Team Akzo Nobel and was hanging around Lisbon as an eager free agent.
“Chuny was very keen to do the leg,” says Towill. “To get a guy with his experience was a no-brainer.” Vestas 11th Hour navigator Simon Fisher won the previous edition with Bermúdez de Castro on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, but the rest of the team had yet to experience the quiet efficiency of the guy nicknamed Chuny. “He’s very focused on the performance but able to keep things light,” says Towill.
There were many moments in the 19-day oceanic sprint when Bermúdez de Castro’s experience helped his teammates keep pace with leg winners Mapfre and runner-up Dongfeng.
“He has fantastic feel for the boat, when to change sails and when to shift the stack,” says Towill. “At the beginning of the leg, he kept saying in his Spanish accent, ‘It can even happen in the best families,’ when he was talking about overtrimming the sails. At first, I didn’t quite understand, but I caught on, and it became a little joke. We’d ask, ‘Best families?’ meaning, ‘Is the sail overtrimmed?’”
A little levity on board goes a long way, says Towill, and in this department Bermúdez de Castro’s contributions were noticeable. “No matter what the conditions were, there were an abundance of smiles, and that has an impact on the speed,” he says. “We saw a lot of downwind and reaching, and he was solid on the wheel. He always had the polar percentage with triple digits.”