Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson is hoping the fighting spirit his crew showed on the penultimate leg of the round the world race might yet provide something special as the blue-water marathon draws to a close.
Camper battled back from fifth to claim second on leg eight from Portugal to France yesterday, edging rival Puma by 13 minutes in a dogged fight over the final stages as the north Atlantic threw up some of the worst conditions of the eight-month epic.
French entry Groupama had the glory of leading the Volvo Ocean fleet into their home port of Lorient to take control of the points table with 219. Puma have 196 while Camper and Spannish rival Telefonica - which broke both rudders yesterday to limp to the finish - are tied for third on 191.
It will take a major upset to tip Groupama from here with just two in-port races and the last leg to Galway in Ireland to go. But with a potential 42 points on offer anything can happen in a race that has had plenty of twists.
"You have to think Groupama are in with a pretty good shot now. They have got an impressive programme, great speed and nice tactics," Nicholson admitted.
"But we're going to keep on pushing right to the very end and we're certainly looking forward to the next in-port and leg and moving further up the leaderboard.
"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's points on offer."
Winds gusting over 50 knots and seven to eight metre seas pushed both boats and crews to the limit on the stretch into Lorient. Nicholson said he was proud of the way Camper and the Emirates Team New Zealand crew handled it, including consolidating their position at the top of the 24-hour record division with a haul of 565.824 nautical miles on Friday.
"The guys were just amazing, we had no dramas all the way here and at times we had over 50 knots and massive seas. To finish second here and get ourselves back on the podium is massive for all sorts of reasons," he said.
"It gets us on a nice roll heading into the finish and it's something positive for the team at a vital time. The sailing over the last few days has been hugely exciting and at times a bit scary so to take away
the 24 hour record and a solid result is great.
"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. 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.
"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," added Nicholson who twice got knocked off the wheel as the decks were swamped.
Camper helmsman and Volvo veteran Rob Salthouse backed up his skipper's thoughts: "I'm told you don't have to be mad but it helps, and if anyone thought that was fun they're mad. It was dreadful. We were pushing man and boat to the limit for 48 hours. It was a great battle though, and that's why we do this race.
"It's why we keep coming back to this race - for the battle. We had four boats out there going for it, hammer down and on the edge. But doing it for more than two days is pretty stressful!"
- © Fairfax NZ News