The 1450 nm third leg, Melbourne to Wellington, was billed as “a sprint”. Most Volvo Ocean Race aficionados saw it as some sort of pleasant interlude for the crews, before they got down to the serious business of the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn.
That wasn’t the way it turned out though; this leg was action packed, from its bumpy start to its nail biting finish and beyond!

The final twist in this race took place after it had been won and lost; it’s a story that really started with the Melbourne in port race, where two boats were called back to the line for, allegedly, jumping the start. Ericsson, which battled back to be very close at the finish, hotly denied it had jumped the start. The issue became a hot topic, not just in Melbourne’s bars and on the quays, but in sailing circles - real and virtual - around the globe! Pictures of the start were posted widely and discussed even more widely; Ericsson asked for redress and said it had evidence that it was wrongly called back; it was a view that the majority of armchair judges tended to agree with. In the end, Ericsson’s evidence was never heard by the international jury, which flew out to Melbourne, only to rule that it would not hear the evidence. Full story HERE.

Team Ericsson then released its evidence; a transcript of the footage filmed on the Race Committee Boat at the moment of the start, saying that the video, accompanying that audio dialogue, between the Race Officer and a Volvo Ocean Race official, clearly showed hat the person who called the line and was standing at the mast, only called Brasil 1. The statement added “It was the Race Officer, who was (wrongly) standing in front of the mast, who called ABN Amro Two and Ericsson.”

Peter Moor: “I called Brasil. You didn’t call Brasil?”
Race Officer: “Um”
Peter Moor: “You did not call Brasil?”
Race Office: “No”
Peter Moor (presumably over the radio): “JT…JT…..apparently there was only one boat called over”
Race Officer: “Two boats”
Peter Moor: “Two boats who were they?...I called Brasil”
Peter Moor (over the radio): “I called Brasil”

Team Ericsson had no choice but to accept the jury’s verdict, but clearly went to the leg 3 start line feeling hard done by, which may well have considerable bearing on the unexpected twist to the end of this tale.

Rough start

After a bit of downwind spinnaker sailing, things got pretty rough going upwind. All the boats took a lot of water over the decks and, for ABN AMRO Two and Brasil 1, the consequences were fairly serious. The Brazilian boat had some gear damage, some crew members had grazes and skipper Torben Grael suffered a dislocated thumb, when he was jerked from the wheel.The Dutch boat fared even worse; the pulpit was damaged, so was the mainsail and bowman Gerd Jan Poortman was hurled against a dagger board, which resulted in facial injuries and a dislocated tailbone, which will keep him out of leg 4.

Dutch domination

As things settled down, it began to look as though, once again, ABN AMRO One, the only second generation Volvo Open 70 in this race, was going to dominate again. The Dutch boat powered on in the fairly heavy weather, but the Spanish yacht movistar was also pulling away from the rest, leaving Pirates of the Caribbean, Brasil 1 and ABN AMRO Two doing battle, but Ericsson tailed off.

The movistar gets its act together

When the wind began to drop everything changed. The Spanish yacht began to gain inexorably on ABN AMRO One and, by the time the entrance to Cook Strait was in sight, the two yachts were match racing! For 100 miles it was, surely, the most gripping, nail biting, tight contest that any ocean race has ever known? They were never less than a mile apart and usually it was much closer. Almost at the end, Bouwe Bekking tried to out manoeuvre the Spanish boat’s crew, by getting riskily close to the rocks, in the hope of diving under movistar, but a passing ferry put paid to that and they raced, neck and neck for the line. Whether you looked on from the front, or behind, it could not have been closer and, at the finish, just 9 secs seperated them.

Ericsson surprises

By then, it was clear that Paul Cayard’s Black Pearl was, barring accidents, going to take third place, but further back another nail biter was going on, as Ericsson’s luck changed and the Swedish boat found the best wind, for the first time in this race! As Konica Minolta, went out to give the Pirates a race into the final bay, first Brasil1 and then ABN AMRO 2 lost all wind and went dead in the water. By the time first Brasil1 and then the Dutch boat had started motoring again, Ericsson had closed to within one mile of ABN AMRO 2 and that was how they stayed until the finish. Torben Grael’s blue and yellow boat, its Brazilian ensign proudly streaming behind, came in fourth. The “kids” came in fifth, on ABN AMRO Two, their white sweat shirts making them look like they’d been out for a Sunday sail. Ericsson came up to the line in sixth place and then caused consternation!

No-one was quite sure what was going on, as the Swedish yacht about turned short of the line, dropped its foresail and came back in under main alone. The penny did drop, eventually! Ericsson had certainly read the rule book this time and sussed out that by suspending racing, it could get shore assistance, without incurring the 2 hour penalty that getting assistance during the pit stop would have incurred! It wasn’t clear what shore assistance Ericsson actually needed and some uncharitable souls suggested that Neil Sanderson and crew were simply making a gesture, in retaliation for what they considered to be an unfair ruling in Melbourne. This resulted in diverse opinion, ranging from “Good on yer lads” to “A bit unsporting, dont you think”, with a majority appearing to find the episode hilarious.

Trials & tribulations

Poortman & Grael went to hospital to have injuries checked out; Grael came back smiling, Poortman was ruled out of the next leg. The most serious injury, however, was to movistar, which had been taken out of the water, to reveal an underside with damaged fairings and the packing oozing out from around the keel doors. A big repair was needed and parts had to be flown in from Australia.

How serious is it and what are the implications for the next leg?

Opinion is divided; some gloss over it as being “non-structural”, others point out that if the packing fails water gets into the keel box and, although the ram seals have been beefed up, since other yachts had similar problems, they would still be subjected to more pressure than they were designed for. Cause for some concern, not only for movistar, but others with the same set up?

Author’s Note: The serious nature of the damage to movistar was revealed, when a repeat of the problem resulted in the yacht almost sinking, close to Cape Horn, and a second repeat ended with it being abandoned in the Atlantic.

Don't forget to check out our America's Cup stories.

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