In this final newsletter for the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, we cover the final leg from Lorient to Galway, the finish celebrations, the return home, and where to from here for the 12th edition of the round the world classic.
The Whitbread and now Volvo Ocean Race has undergone some major changes since its inception in 1973-74 when 17 entries set off on an adventure race around the world.
Without wishing to recap history, the Volvo 70 phase has ended, in favour of a one-design projected to reduce costs significantly, while maintaining performance. Whether in fact costs are reduced, of course remains to be seen - often a shrink in one area is accompanied by a blow out in another.
But clearly the race has to lift its entry level to at least eight boats, and more importantly they have to finish each leg. The situation at the end of Leg 5 where only one of the six competitors had not suspended racing on that leg, verges on the bizarre.
Most involved in the present race have spoken favourably of the changes - quite how many back that with boat deposits is another matter. We'll be closely following the development of the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race on Sail-World.com - so stay tuned.
One of the many changes from the original four legged Whitbread course has been the introduction of the two sprint ocean legs - from Lisbon to Lorient and Lorient to Galway. Certainly Leg 8 provided more than its fair share of the action - and really the course of the race was decided in just two minutes - when Telefonica broke two rudders - and the Race became Groupama's to lose.
In the post race analysis, it was surprising just how many failures beset the race winner Groupama. In fact they probably had more damage than most but fortuitously their issues all happened within reasonable reach of land. Her hull de-lamination, occurred just over a day out of finishing in Auckland. The dismasting off the Brazillian coast was fixed with a trip to a nearby port.
The mainsail jam on Leg 8, on the day of the finish, freed up after the third attempt and before real damage was done.
The tactical/navigation snafu of Leg 1 saw her finish third, thanks to two dismastings and a hull fracture amongst her competitors.
In the end it was the experience of Franck Cammas, coupled with a very good design that pulled Groupama through.
Cammas and his crew had a strong understanding of trans-oceanic racing developed from many round the world speed record attempts, plus numerous other trans-oceanic races. This knowledge told them when to button off, and when to push hard. That factor gave Groupama the race winning edge.
The final Leg was close - for once fate dealt Camper a fair hand and the history of the finish at the Maldives, and Lisbon, where she was pipped at the post was not repeated. That, plus what happened astern for Chris Nicholson and his crew, was sufficient to place Camper into second place - and that in turn was hers to lose going in the final InPort Race - where she only had to finish and extract a single point to beat Puma for the second spot in the overall prize.
Ken Read and crew and Puma pulled off a remarkable recovery from their dismasting in one of the most remote spots in the planet. Read was obviously disappointed not to have been able to cement second place on the final two Legs.
But had he looked back to mid-November as he was teeing off in the Tristan da Cunha Open, waiting for a ship to arrive to pick up the dismasted Puma, anchored in the bay. That was when three of his competitors had already finished in Cape Town. Right then, the notion of finishing third, and running a very close second - and being at the point where he could have won after leg 7 - would have been filed under 'D' for Dreams.
Puma's was a remarkable story in so many ways. If we had to pick a Sailor of the Race, it would have been Ken Read. A superb sailor, a tremendous ambassador for his country, boat and sponsor. Always with a smile on his face, and ready laconic comment - in public at least, although the lows must have seemed very deep at times.
Telefonica looked to have the race in the bag by the end of Leg 5, when she had to suspend racing for 17 hours, and then pulled up to within an hour of Puma at Itajai. From there, the race unraveled for the winner of the first three legs. Uncharacteristic errors from an a top crew marred their InPort racing, and that in turn framed up their subsequent trans-oceanic performance. This was race of two halves, and those that performed best in the latter half or even third, came through on the final podium.
Abu Dhabi started the campaign brilliantly with her performance in the Rolex Fastnet Race - setting a new monohull record. But despite a leg win, she struggled to recover from her dismasting on the opening night of Leg 1, and had similar upsets on Leg 5, with a return to Auckland for repairs and then another trip on a freighter from Chile to Itajai. The snagging of a lobster pot on the final leg was the last straw for a boat who had more than her share of bad luck.
Team Sanya had their moments in the 39,270nm race, but they were few and far between. They didn't need the collision with a submerged object on the opening night of Leg 1. The way things turned out they could have got a third on that Leg. The next with a rig fracture and the stop in Madagascar - was again unfortunate. So too was the snapping of a rudder when leading on Leg 5 in the Southern Ocean. However Mike Sanderson and his plucky crew had bitten off a big mouthful, in taking on the five new boats with the former Telefonica Blue from the previous race. They only achieved their goal of beating one of the new boats, on the last leg, after Abu Dhabi's misfortune. Otherwise they were limited to grabbing some better than minimum points from the InPort races.
Team Sanya's skipper Mike Sanderson is the first of the six in the current race to come out with a strong statement about wanting to go again in the 12th edition in the Volvo 65.
Winner of the Seamanship award Brad Marsh, proud to be into his home port, Auckland, after a near sinking north of New Zealand, while leading Leg of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race Richard Gladwell
In this edition we cover the prizegivings for the final leg and race overall, as well as taking a look at those who won the selected trophies for Race Rookie, Shore Crew, Media Crew Member, Seamanship and Designer, and where available have videos of their exploits.
And what now that the race has finished and a two or more year program is over? We have the story of Camper's return to Spain, with a delivery crew - and yes, still more sponsor activities. Indeed, why not?