Volvo Ocean Race: Going backward to go forward

Posted March 14, 2012, at 4:40 p.m.

To say that we were pleased to arrive in Auckland on Sunday would be a massive understatement. We were beyond happy. The sea state on the leg from China to New Zealand was horrible, from top to bottom. We were ready to be done, free from the pounding waves.

So to pull in to the City of Sails to an incredible show of support — an estimated 47,000 people were in the Race Village — from family and friends waiting on the dock meant a lot.

Topping it all off was finishing second in Leg 4. It was by far our best leg. And, we had to fight for that second. There was nothing easy about it.

If you’ve been following the race this year, you’ve probably learned that we like to keep it interesting. To catch you up to this point, in Leg 1 our mast broke in the middle of the South Atlantic. It’s not very easy to sail without a mast. We took a little detour to the island of Tristan da Cuhna — they call it the most remote inhabited island on earth — on our way to Cape Town while waiting for a giant ship to come pick us up (it’s a crazy story that’s been well-documented).

Leg 2 we blew up a sail and had a dreadful doldrums crossing. And, of course, there was the shipping of the boats due to piracy that the whole fleet had to endure. Leg 3 was the encounter with a fishing net and a crew of Malaysian fishermen in the Malacca Straits. That was followed by a bit of a flyer where we opted to sail through what is known as the “Dangerous Grounds” rather than go up the Vietnam coast with the rest of the fleet.

Every boat in this race has had moments like these, had to deal with adversity and decisions of various magnitudes, and we’ve definitely had our fair share.

So when we kept sailing north out of Sanya, China, on this last leg while the rest of the fleet went east, for sure it wasn’t a surprise. We were getting messages onboard from family joking if we thought the next port was Qingdao, China, confused with the last race, or if we were sailing to Japan instead. It seemed we spent most of the leg pointing in every direction but New Zealand.

Overall, it was a hard leg, sailing upwind pretty much the whole time, launching off angry, nasty waves. We got airborne plenty onboard our 70-foot PUMA’s Mar Mostro. It’s not a sport for the faint of heart.

There’s a lot of round-the-world sailing experience among the 11 guys onboard, and no one could remember such a long, miserable leg. But, it also became an exciting boat race. One of the closest finishes in race history, with Telefonica and CAMPER in sight. Those last 72 hours into Auckland were the best we’ve sailed our boat. We put the boat in a position for success and it rewarded us.

In this race, you kind of have to have the mentality of a closer in baseball, that day-by-day mindset. If you blow a save and lose a game for the team, the next day out you have to pretend like it didn’t happen. Out on the ocean the weather can change from one extreme to the next, a sail might rip in half, you could hit floating debris — or you could lose a mast. There are going to be bumps, but you know there’s going to be better weather on the other side.

What’s next? The Southern Ocean. Definitely more excitement ahead.

Ken Read is skipper of the PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG team, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. Currently, PUMA is in fourth place, behind Team Telefonica, Groupama and CAMPER with Emirates Team NZ. The 39,000-nautical-mile round-the-world yacht race is the world’s longest continuous professional sporting event. Visiting five continents over nine months, the world’s best offshore sailors risk their lives every day competing in the “Everest of sailing.” The race began in Alicante, Spain, on Nov. 5, 2011, and will stop in Miami this May before finishing in Galway, Ireland, in early July. Follow the race at www.volvooceanrace.com.

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