5 Feb 2012

Spanish hat-trick matches 22-year-old record

7:34 am on 5 February 2012

Spain's Iker Martinez tightened his grip on the Volvo Ocean Race after becoming the first skipper since New Zealand sailing great Peter Blake 22 years ago to win the first three legs in a row.

Team New Zealand's entry, Camper, finished third for second overall with seven stages remaining.

Telefonica's comfortable victory for the leg between Abu Dhabi and the southern Chinese port of Sanya left them 15 points clear of the fleet with seven stages still to negotiate in the nine-month, 39,000 nautical mile offshore race.

Their success looked extremely unlikely two weeks ago after a major sail ripped just after the boat left Maldivian capital Male.

Telefonica were forced to slow down while they made the onboard repairs but the Spanish boat's superior speed and tactics through the treacherous Malacca Strait separating the Indian and Pacific Oceans again proved too good for the opposition.

Martinez, who was voted sailor of the year with crewmate Xabi Fernandez for 2011, said he had not realised he had matched the achievement of Blake, who went on to win the 1989-90 edition with Steinlager 2.

Martinez, 34, an Olympic gold medallist in Athens in 2004 and a silver medal winner four years later in Beijing, said sailing in the Malacca Strait had been the toughest of his long career.

Camper now has 80 points overall in second with Groupama of France, runner-up for the leg, on 75.

The race is scheduled to finish in Galway, Ireland, on July 8th.