In the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, Team Telefonica had a lot thrown at them between Cape Town and Abu Dhabi but, on the tail end of great escapes, heroic battles, and weather that confounded from first to last, nothing was going to stand in the way of Iker Martinez and his men making it two offshore leg victories out of two.
For Stage 1, the boats made their way to an undisclosed Safe Haven port in the Indian Ocean -- in 'stealth mode' for part of the way to keep its location secret. Once there, they were loaded onto a ship and transported to within 100 nautical miles of Abu Dhabi for a Stage 2 sprint to the race's first ever Middle Eastern stopover.
PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race - Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain is prepared to be lifted onto a ship in the safe haven port on stage 1 of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 from Cape Town, South Africa, to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
It might have all been so different, though, if a first stage that was heart-breaking for some and heart-stopping for fans had ended just slightly differently.
The teams left Cape Town on December 11 still expecting harsh weather conditions on the first night only to make a painfully slow crossing from the Atlantic to the Indian oceans.
"One week out from the start we said no matter what, we wouldn't be going north," said Camper skipper Chris Nicholson. "As we leave Cape Town and hug the coast it's always drive south, but no one got to drive south straight away. The best made plans have to be changed at times."
They would keep changing all the way to the final destination.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Groupama sailing team and Camper swapped the lead over the first few days before a definitive split in tactics saw Telefónica at the northern extreme of the fleet as Groupama drove ever further south in search of stronger breezes.
"Franck Cammas just loves the Southern Ocean so much," was how Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker later put it.
By day six, progress was still frustratingly slow, with a weather system travelling just ahead of the main fleet and travelling at about the same speed -- meaning an exit to faster speeds stayed tantalisingly out of reach.
PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race - Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain at the finish of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Desperate times calls for desperate measures, and while Groupama continued south east, not getting any closer to the finishing line but starting to feel a lot better about the decision, Team Sanya took a bold option to head north.
Mike Sanderson's team made it through some lively weather unscathed and began building a lead that stretched up to 213 nautical miles -- not bad for the only team in a second-hand boat -- before reporting damage to a piece of rigging on day nine.
It was a cruel blow for the Chinese team, who had been forced out of Leg 1 inside the first 24 hours after suffering massive damage to their hull.
This time, they were forced to head to Madagascar for repairs and would go on to miss the transport ship to the northern Emirates. “Lowest of lows,” described Watch Captain Richard Mason as he prepared a jury rig for the broken D2.
By the following day, Groupama's gamble had taken them into a lead they held all the way to their entry into the Doldrums on December 22, covering 478.28 nm over one day-long period along the way to take the provisional Leg 2 honours in the IWC Schaffhausen Speed Record Challenge.
By then, the fleet was in Stealth Mode but nothing could mask the problems Groupama were about to face, as their lead was swallowed up by a zone of infamous instability - the Doldrums.
With Groupama stuck like glue, Telefónica and Camper took the advantage to the east, with Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg behind them, and the top two took up a thrilling tussle that would continue over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (and take in some frankly shocking carol singing).
Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race - Roberto Bermudez de Castro takes a drink while keeping an eye on Telefonica from onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
The stage victory was in doubt right up until the finish line at the secret loading port, with Telefónica crossing first with a winning margin of just one minute 57 seconds after 15 days and over 4,000 nm of sailing. Telefónica scooped 24 points, with Camper gaining 20, Puma 16, Groupama 12 and Abu Dhabi eight.
Martínez described the run in as "final miles of madness" and a game of cat and mouse, with the pair switching the lead repeatedly.
In a move unprecedented in the 38-year history of the event, the fleet was safely loaded onto a ship, arriving at Sharjah on January 2.
There was a scare for Groupama on the eve of stage 2, with the sailing team having to fix a gash in the hull, but they made light of the trouble to win a seven-hour sprint race in much faster conditions than expected, overhauling Telefónica with 10 miles to go for another exciting finish and the full six points.
Telefónica took five points for second, Camper came in third for four points, followed by Puma (three) and Abu Dhabi (two), with a firework reception greeting the home team on their way in.
PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race - PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, skippered by Ken Read from the USA during leg 2, stage 2, of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
That confirmed the Leg 2 finishing positions, pending Sanya's arrival at the Leg 1 finish line, as:
1. Team Telefónica 29 points
2. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand 24
3. Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg 19
4. Groupama sailing team 18
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 10
Fifth was not quite the position Azzam's skipper Ian Walker had imagined but he was still happy to be home.
"It was probably a good thing to sit on the boat for an hour after the finish and wait for arrivals as it let us put the leg behind us and allow us to enjoy a fantastic homecoming and welcome in Abu Dhabi," Walker said. "That kind of made the end of the leg for me."
By the end of the leg, Telefónica led with 66 points, followed by Camper on 58, Groupama on 42, Puma on 28, Abu Dhabi on 19 and Sanya, who can still score points if they finish Stage 1, on a provisional 4.
"The preparation of the Telefónica team is outstanding," said Puma skipper Ken Read. "These guys have set the bar real high and it's up to us to get up there and surpass it. It's not because we're not trying, I can tell you that, but we have a long way to go."
Their next chance will be the Etihad Airways In-Port Race on January 13, with Leg 3 to Sanya starting the next day with another sprint back up to Sharjah.
First place in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2 proved plenty to give Telefónica the overall Leg 2 victory and see them extend their advantage over Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand at the top of the leaderboard to eight points.