A defiant Team Telefónica salvaged fifth place after limping to the finish of Leg 8 in Lorient, France with two broken rudders at 20:40:26 UTC on Friday.
'We’re losing the race here,’’ said skipper Iker Martinez. 'But we’re all safe, which is the most important thing. We’ll keep going though, and we’ll see.'
'We had a very big problem and we're all here safely so I'm much happier now. I think we did a great leg until the damage, no doubt, our best leg; we competed at a very, very high level,' he said upon arrival at Lorient.
'From when we tacked at the Azores we knew that the conditions were going to be very tough and we'd be entering low pressure until gybing to get here,' added boat captain, Pere Ribes.
'The truth is that I didn't expect such big seas and I think we had seven or eight metre waves and in these conditions, knowing that there are only 30 hours or so of the leg left everyone was really going for it and we had to go very fast.'
It was a nightmare race for the Spanish team who suffered an almighty fall from racing at record speeds in first place, to sailing conservatively at the rear of the fleet after breaking a second rudder on Friday morning, the final day of the penultimate of the 39,000nm round the world race.
Trouble first struck Telefónica late on Thursday afternoon when the team broke their starboard rudder in 25 knots of wind, losing 11 nautical miles on the fleet and dropping from first to fourth.
The defiant crew surged back to reclaim the lead within hours, before they were again scrambling with limited steering. During a gybe that was touted as the most crucial move of the leg, the replacement rudder broke and the port rudder was damaged.
Martínez and his crew worked to ensure the stability of the boat and safety of the crew, before the heartbreaking realisation of the enormity of the situation sunk in.
Telefonica broke two starboard rudders and damaged the port one – three rudders all told in in just six hours. Martinez explains the detail of what happened and the repair process. The first rudder broke at noon on Thursday June 14 UTC
Team Telefonica heading for the finish in Lorient - Equipo Telefonica
Uploaded : 47 KB 'First the starboard rudder broke. Changing this foil has its own problems because once the foil comes out there's a hole in the hull and one has to be incredibly careful that the boat doesn't start taking on water, because then it could become a very difficult situation indeed.
'When the rudder broke, we of course lost control, and we luffed. We brought down the sails and switched to another tack to bring up the rudder. With some blows downwards we managed to free the piece that was left in - the broken part - which was fairly small, and then we got down to fitting the spare rudder that we carry on board, which was no straightforward operation. The rudder went in from the outside, so a crew member with a harness was on the outside too and we managed to pull the new rudder up and into place.
‘Once the new rudder was in we were able to sail normally and we climbed back up the spots we'd lost. We'd gone from being in first to dropping down to fourth and then we were able to get up ahead again and to get past the boats and into the lead.
'Then there was an important decision to be taken, which was 'when to gybe', we managed to gybe.
'With just 350 miles to go we broke the same (starboard and replacement) rudder. As the rudder broke we lost control and as this time it was the windward rudder the boat went off course and we had a tricky situation to deal with again. We had to lower the sails and when we had managed to get the situation under control again we set course for Lorient.
'Fortunately the hull had been sealed so we didn’t take on any water.
'We are lucky enough to still have a rudder so that we can sail to starboard', Martinex wrote from on board Telefonica. 'But with the added complication that it is also damaged and so we can't reach one hundred per cent speeds. So, in terms of the competition, well it's just impossible for us to go as fast as they are.
'The worst thing is that we were playing for the Race and our chances of winning this are almost nil now, so anyway... A tough day, a difficult day,' said Martinez writing while still racing.
'One of the things about this team is that we don't give up,' said watch leader Neal McDonald, after the race. 'We've been working for almost three years on this project and we're going to give it all we've got until the end. I'm sure that Iker will be making sure that we get the very best out of what's left of this. We've still got two inshores and a leg to do and we're going to give it our all right until the end.'
Team Telefonica heading for the finish in Lorient - Equipo Telefonica
Almost right up until the finishing line the tension was palpable, with 'Sanya' pushing 'Telefónica' hard right to the finish. Although the Spaniards were 'wounded' they managed to finish in fifth place, finishing 19 minutes ahead of Mike Sanderson's crew and with the skipper who won the 2005-2006 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Telefonica had an emotional arrival at Lorient, deepened by the loud and sincere applause coming from the French public who showed their affection for the Spanish team and for the crew who are esteemed for their fighting spirit.
'We have to look ahead and over the past few hours we've fought to get ahead of 'Sanya' with just one rudder and we did it. I think we'll really remember today's five points at Galway. Now we need to fight with different objectives. It is tough, but that is the way it is' said trimmer Xabo Fernandez - an Olympic Gold and Silver medalist.
'The main thing was to get the boat to finish in one piece and that no one was hurt,' said boat captain Pepe Ribes. 'What we feel is a bit of frustration; although we haven't mathematically lost this regatta yet because 28 points behind with two inshores and a leg to go isn't losing this, but 'Groupama' has a lead which, unless a catastrophe occurs, is easy to defend.
I'd snap up a 23 points lead on the second-placed entry with a leg and two inshores to go in a second... 'that's football', as they say,' added the sailor from Alicante, who is taking part in his fourth Volvo Ocean Race.
After the finish, skipper Iker Martinex elaborated on the incidents, in which three years of hard work were destroyed on just two minutes
'The breaking of the second rudder was a bit strange, because it was a new rudder and we were sailing on the opposite tack. As it broke we lost control of the boat and it gybed. The boat was at 90º for a while until we got control of the situation.
'The worst thing was that the other rudder was damaged, so that's why we abandoned racing mode and went into safe mode in order to finish. We achieved what we wanted to achieve, which was to all get to shore safely, although that isn't what we have been aiming for the past two years, but that's the way it is.
'From here, considering where we've come from, the Race is not looking too good for us because we wanted to get here and to be in a position to fight for final victory and right now, that's not really possible.
We need to fight bit by bit, first trying to understand what happened and why we've had a problem like this; we've never broken a rudder over three round the world races and in a matter of six hours we broke three, so we need to see exactly where the problem is.
'We need to learn from this and to aim for a great final leg and fight to do as well as we can. We will keep fighting until this is over, not for what we had wanted, but we need to keep focussing ahead and to keep racing.
Telefónica receive 10 points that take their total to 191, slipping from eight points behind Groupama on the overall leaderboard to 28. They are now tied in third place, on points, with Camper.
The Notice of Race (Item 24.1) states that in the case of a draw, the balance tips in favour of the boat making the best leg finish. As such, the Spanish boat drops back into fourth place, whilst Camper lie in third.
The best possible score for a boat from here on is to win a total of 42 points up for wins in Leg 9 and the two remaining inshore races. 30 points will be taken by the first boat to the Irish city, the end point of the ninth and final leg, which will begin on the first of July. The other 12 points will be on offer in the inshore races: one in Lorient of June 30th and the other one in Galway on July 7th by Sail-World