A rough ride home and a joyful welcome

© IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race
© IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race

Chris Nicholson nursed CAMPER through a rough night and a late morning scare before the team made it back to second place and a series of ecstatic family reunions.

"It felt like a very long leg. We nursed it in last night as there was no point pushing at that point” - Stu Bannatyne

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand leaped to second place in the overall standings, two points behind Leg 1 winners Team Telefónica, after negotiating 6,500 nautical miles of sailing that was relatively trouble free before the last few hours.

Overnight, they had to contend with 35 knots of wind and mountainous seas before suffering damage to their rigging in sight of Table Mountain and a finish line that was suddenly looking a long way away.

They finally completed the leg at 12:48:04 local time on Sunday, 21 days 21 hours 48 minutes and four seconds after the start gun fired in Alicante back on November 5.

After children had been passed over the guard rail for joyful reunions with heavily bearded fathers, and the sailors had started stuffing steak burgers into their mouths, Nicholson described just how tough the end of the leg had been.

“That’s the roughest conditions I’ve been in in a Volvo Open 70," the skipper said. "Normally, you’ve got somewhere left to go as in put another reef in, put a smaller jib on, but we were out.

“We were three reefs and a storm jib ... we were starting to run out of options other than to turn around and run with it. And that is the last option.

“At the time, you are thinking it’s the worst day of your life but now we’re through it it makes you feel a little bit more robust for the next time those conditions crop up."

Asked what he was most looking forward to at dockside, Nicholson was clear.

"Most of all I just want to see my family," he said in sentiments that were clearly echoed by the rest of the team after such a long time at sea.

Telefónica have 31 points from the first in-port race and first leg, followed by CAMPER on 29. Groupama sailing team, 500 nautical miles back, will shoot up to third on 22 if they finish, as expected on Tuesday.

None of the teams who were forced to retire from Leg 1 will add to their scores from Alicante. That leaves Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with six points, PUMA Ocean racing powered by BERG on five and Team Sanya on three.

CAMPER had powered away from Alicante at the head of the fleet back on November 5. They survived the boat-breaking conditions of the first night unscathed but an uncharacteristic navigational hesitation soon after entering the Atlantic left Nicholson’s team playing catch up from that point on.

Resisting the urge to gamble on a risky move to get them back in contention, instead Nicholson’s men kept their cool, concentrated on trying to grind down their deficit on the leaders and waited patiently for an opportunity to present itself.

"We are here in second and that's a good result so we are happy with the points and the position, but we were all expecting to do better." Nicholson said. "We have had 20 days of playing catch up from an early mistake and we weren't able to catch up."

Nicholson said that the leg had proved unusual and had produced some difficult sailing conditions but the CAMPER boat had come through with flying colours.

"It was tough. It was different from any other first leg I have done before. The weather just wasn't the same. We are here and we are in good shape."

Referring to the damage which had forced Sanya, Abu Dhabi and PUMA to retire from Leg 1 Nicholson dismissed any suggestion that these teams were now out of contention.

"The fact that it has happened to them means that it could happen to anyone at anytime. If I was in their shoes I would know that this race is still wide open."

When the initially promising southerly strategy adopted by Franck Cammas’ Groupama sailing team turned sour, CAMPER’s more westerly track moved them up to third, behind PUMA's Mar Mostro and Telefónica.

After days of frustrating sailing without significantly closing down the leaders, PUMA’s dismasting unexpectedly elevated CAMPER to second place and finally gave them a chance to put Telefónica under pressure.

When both boats hooked into a high wind cold front heading straight for Cape Town, it was Nicholson who pushed his crew hardest, sailing flat out for days on end and clocking up 554.16 nautical miles in a 24-hour period, a performance that will almost certainly win them the IWC Schaffhausen Speed Record Challenge for Leg 1.

Ultimately, however, Telefónica’s superior positioning in relation to the cold front allowed them to cruise to victory, arriving in Cape Town at nightfall on Saturday in a time of 21 days five hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds.

According to co-skipper Stu Bannatyne, on their final night at sea faced strong winds and huge seas and with their only remaining challenger, Groupama trailing by more than 500 nautical miles, the CAMPER crew reduced sail dramatically to protect their boat.

"It felt like a very long leg. Last night we backed off once Telefónica had finished, with winds between 35 and 40 knots. We nursed it in last night as there was no point pushing at that point.”

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