Folks, what we have on our hands here is the closest Volvo Ocean Race in my memory. Here's why:
- Abu Dhabi held off the pack to bring it on home to Lisbon and take their first Leg victory
- Groupama, who almost snuck by, grabbed 10 more points than previous race leader Telefonica, to take the overall lead.
- PUMA, which has gotten better and better, grabbed third to pull into overall contention (despite a dropped rig in Leg 1)
- Telefonica broke CAMPER's heart by getting past to take 4th into Lisbon, which keeps them in close contention for the overall despite the growing strength of the other teams.
- Just 12 points separate the top 3 (Groupama, Telefonica, PUMA), with 2 legs and associated inshore racing to come.
In short, you can't call the winner, and that is a rare event in a Volvo Ocean Race, with just two legs to go. Just
take a look at the leaderboard:
And if you want a sense of how heartbreaking this tight racing can be for the crews, just check out Ian Walker's red eyes in the video above. Or read what CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson had to say:
"I am sure that everyone entering the river thought that there was going to be an element of luck, and I guess it was not our day." commented Nicholson after the finish.
"What do you say, it is a hard race and we are a good team. We sailed the boat quite nicely but it did not happen for us. We need to go and look at why mid leg we didn’t cement the lead but I think our guys had a good leg."
"After the finish we sat down in the cockpit and didn’t know what to say to each other, other than it was damn rotten luck. They are professional guys and we will bounce back. There was a lot of hard work from a very good team and I think we deserved a lot better."
Why was Nicholson so gutted? Well, here is CAMPER's description of the finish:
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand has taken fifth in Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race after an agonising finish that saw the team being edged out just metres from the line to finish seconds behind overall race leader Telefonica after more than 11 days at sea and over 3500 nautical miles of racing.
In a rematch of the finish of Leg 4 into Auckland the two boats were neck and neck for the final 12 hours with CAMPER battling a dying breeze and strong tidal currents to lead for most of the long painful slog up the River Tagus. However, in sight of the finish line Telefonica picked up a whisper of breeze and managed to ghost ahead of CAMPER and cross the line less than two minutes in front in the early hours of Friday morning local time (Friday afternoon NZT).
Even in a race that has become known for its dramatic finishes and a leg marked by its ups and downs it was a nerve-jangling result with virtually nothing separating the two boats as they crawled up the Tagus River fiercely fighting it out to the very end in one of the closest finishes in the history of the race.
With only a few knots of wind and up to 3 knots of tide pushing the boats back out to sea it was painful progress in the dark for the last few hours as both CAMPER and Telefonica struggled to make headway and at times even went backwards.
Ultimately though it was not CAMPER’s day and 11 days at sea came down to less than two minutes as Telefonica slipped in front and took 15 vital points.
Tough on the crews, no doubt. But tight racing is what we came to see, and Volvo is delivering.