It was the shortest, fastest and hairiest legs of the Volvo Ocean Race, and Camper almost came out on top.
For the record, they set a new pace for the fastest 24 hours in the race, finished second just an hour behind Groupama after being second-to-last for some of the leg from Lisbon to Lorient, and leaped back onto the podium in third place overall going into the final dash to Galway.
But perhaps most crucially for the Emirates Team New Zealand campaign, they proved their speed downwind and held the boat - and crew - together in punishing winds and seas, even in a knock-down.
"When you find yourself in 45-50 knots you're just trying to make it through in one piece - forget about the results, you just want to make it through the night, and we did it with good speed," Camper skipper Chris Nicholson says. "Obviously, everybody is pushing to get here first, but when you look back at the conditions we had you're just glad to get here in one piece."
This five-day sprint verified Camper's strengths and shortcomings. In the opening stretch out of Spain, they struggled in reaching conditions. When the Azores High forced the fleet to start on an even keel again, Camper revelled in the downwind gales - setting the new 24-hour record of 565 miles.
Nicholson predicted leg 8 would be a boat-breaker, and his team were able to take advantage of that. Leaders Telefonica suffered two smashed rudders and are now fourth overall.
Devastated skipper Iker Martinez summed it up: "We have just seen any chance of us winning this round the world regatta slip away. It's like two years' work just disappearing into thin air in a matter of minutes - what a mess."
Nicholson could feel for the Telefonica crew: "When you're sending it as hard as what we were it is pretty easy to do serious damage to boat and crew and finish in last place or worse. So I think we got the balance about right.
"Everyone's saying they have never been this knocked around. Last night we had a few moments where we were going at 38 knots down waves in the dark - that's not right.
"To finish second here and get ourselves back on the podium is massive for all sorts of reasons. It gets us on a nice roll heading into the finish and it's something positive for the team at a vital time. The guys were just amazing, we had no dramas all the way here and at times we had over 50 knots and massive seas."
Groupama, who overcame their own sail-jam problems in this leg, now lead the fleet, with a 23-point lead over Ken Read's Puma. Camper are another five points back.
"You have to think Groupama are in with a pretty good shot now. They have got an impressive programme, great speed and nice tactics. But we're going to keep on pushing right to the very end and we're certainly looking to forward the next in-port and leg and moving further up the leaderboard," Nicholson says.
"We had to do well in this leg and we did. It shows the fighting spirit of this team - we don't give up and we'll keep fighting as long as there are points on offer."
Telefonica and Team Sanya were still battling it out to the finishline at 9am NZ time.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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