At the end of a gutwrenching 20 days of sailing from China to Auckland, beaten Camper skipper Chris Nicholson wondered aloud about staying in his musky wet weather gear for another week, before heading into the punishing Southern Ocean.
After 5200 nautical miles of upwind and tight reaching sailing, the New Zealand-flagged Camper were edged out of a podium place by little more than 50 metres after a final dogfight with overall Volvo Ocean Race leaders Telefonica this afternoon. It was the highlight of an incredible finish, where five of the six boats in the fleet crossed the line within two hours of each other.
Telefonica remains the leader after four legs, but Camper's fourth placing into their home port has pushed them back to third overall, five points behind decisive leg winner Groupama - who finished 12 hours before the rest of the fleet.
Nicholson could not hide his disappointment on the dock - despite the cheers of thousands of wellwishers around the Auckland Viaduct; his mind already racing ahead to this Saturday's in-port race and the start of the leg to Itajai, Brazil, on Sunday.
"I think we get half a day off," the Australian sailor told Boating New Zealand magazine. "We were thinking of just staying in our wet weather gear, and just keep going. It would be easier than going to stay in a nice motel with great food."
Two of the Kiwis in the Camper crew are carrying injuries from the brutual leg - Tony Rae damaged a rib halfway through the leg, and Darryl Wislang dislocated a finger in the charge into Auckland. But Nicholson admitted it was more a case of bruised egos - especially for the Kiwis on board aiming to be first home - that needed to heal before the next leg.
He also admitted Camper's VO70 boat was struggling to match the speed of some of the frontrunners in the fleet, particularly in tight reaching conditions. But nothing could be done to the boat during the short stopover to eke out anymore speed.
"That's what the product is. In tight reaching we're not as fast. We need to find some racetrack where it's not tight reaching. The next leg will give us that," he said. "There are no excuses for us, it's just how it is. We have to get on as best we can."
Tony Rae had a positive outlook on the rest of the race: "We are going well upwind and running. We're only halfway round, it's a long way round... you can still make big mistakes, and there are still big opportunities."
After managing to shake Telefonica and Camper off their tail, the Puma crew were celebrating their second placing an hour before like it was a leg victory. Skipper Ken Read described the battle down the coast as the best 72 hours that his team had put together.
"We decided to go play with the big dogs, Telefonica and Camper, and we beat them at their game. We have been looking for this moment and this feeling for quite some time," he said.
While he conceded winners Groupama had sailed an "unbelievable race", he could almost discount them...."It feels like a leg win for us because we've been battling it out with those guys.
"From the minute we left the dock, this has been one of the worst legs any of us can ever remember. We are going upwind around the world, slamming off waves 24 hours a day. The last few days big square waves, big swells, you just feel like the boat is going to break in half all the time. But you can't stop pushing because there's a guy right next to you."
The constant slamming took its toll on Groupama, with their boat in a cradle yesterday undergoing repairs to a crack in the bow suffered in storm conditions off the top of the North Island.
The French crew, including Kiwi bowman Brad Marsh, kept their cool to the finishline just before midnight on Saturday, despite having to bail water in the final stages. But by then, their lead was strong enough not to be concerned with the chasers.
Leg four placings
1. Groupama, 19 days 15 hours 35 minutes
2. Puma, 20d 3h 57m
3. Telefonica, 20d 4h 45m
4. Camper, 20d 4h 46m
5. Abu Dhabi Racing, 20d 5h 20m
6. Team Sanya, 20d 5h 55m
Overall standings after four legs
1. Telefonica, 121 points
2. Groupama, 103 pts
3. Camper, 98 pts
4. Puma, 78 pts
5. Abu Dhabi Racing, 53 pts
6. Team Sanya, 17 pts
- Fairfax Media
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