Volvo Ocean Race: It’s neck and neck heading into Lisbon

Posted June 06, 2012, at 3:37 p.m.

For two Volvo races now, I’ve written end-of-the-leg blogs and they always have been rather easy. A couple hours out from the finish line, I head below deck and reflect. For me, it’s kind of fun. You don’t necessarily rationalize what you just went through, but you certainly start thinking about how you can get better, what may or may not have happened in your favor.

But the last two legs there has been no time to do anything other than push as hard as you can to the finish. Leg 7 across the Atlantic Ocean could have gone either really well or really badly for us on several different occasions. And I think every boat in this fleet feels exactly the same way. There was no advantage to being ahead — it seemed to put you in a vulnerable position. We never had a chance to feel comfortable, and there was always going to be another weather gate that would slow you down and let everyone else catch up; in essence, create a restart.

It led right up to the last minutes of this leg to Lisbon. About 250 miles off the Portuguese coast there was one last windless zone. We needed to break through that final zone to have what looked like it would be a free run in. But we were all in such different positions that our angle to enter that zone became a massive determining factor.

There was an advantage to being north, where we were, because it was easier to get through the weather trough. But, there was an advantage to being south, where three of the boats were, because your angle was better. So, we had to work for every square inch available.

Coming up the river to Lisbon, it was blowing 24 knots and we thought, “Oh, thank goodness, we’re just going to blaze in and life is good. We’re going to finish on the podium and beat two of our closest competitors.”

Suddenly, we drop to 0 knots, and the lead we built up on CAMPER and Telefonica was gone — they looked like they were only a mile away. It was pitch black, middle of the night, you don’t know where the breeze is going to come from yet, and you’re not sure what your next move should be. Fortunately, the breeze filled in and we sailed ahead … but that wasn’t without the sheer terror of thinking it could go really badly.

Physically, this leg was one of the easiest transatlantic crossings I’ve ever done. But, mentally and emotionally, it was one of the hardest. It was frustrating. Strategically, it was hard to ever feel good about your position.

So, we’re fortunate and happy with our third-place finish in the leg. We narrowed the points to first place … this is a race for points now. There are still more than 70 points on the table, and a lot of sailing ahead.

You look back on where we were — with a broken mast and a crummy leg to China — compare that to where we are now, and win, lose or draw, I couldn’t be more happy with this team. It’s a tough group of guys who have hung in there and are literally battling to the end. That’s all you can ever ask for in teammates. Having that attitude to stick it out all the way to the end of the race. This team has clearly proven it has the physical and mental fortitude to do that each and every leg, and through the end of this race.

Ken Read is skipper of the PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG team, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. 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, Lorient, Brittany, is the next stop, and the race will finish in Galway, Ireland, in early July. Follow the race at www.volvooceanrace.com.

Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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