The final chapter is nearly complete. This epic trip around the planet over. All safe and sound … at least pretty sound. And, back on the podium for us. Again. Not the ultimate spot we were looking for, but pretty good nonetheless.
I must admit that just after getting our fuel refill in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after the disaster of Leg 1, and powering towards Tristan da Cunha with no mast in the boat, things looked pretty bleak. With the timeline that was presented to us, it was looking tough to even make it to the start of Leg 1, never mind compete at any sort of high level in this race overall. Then to be sitting with one leg left, to mathematically be in the hunt for the overall win, it says a lot about this team and the ability to deal with adversity.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Yet another park up for Mar Mostro on this final leg to Galway, Ireland. Ahead by a couple miles over one of our competitors and about 6 miles in front of the other two close teams, with about 80 miles to go in a condition that we have always felt fast in. Problem is the weather gods didn’t want to help. We were sailing into a light air lifting breeze first as the lead boat. The others simply sailed right up to us and we started over. CAMPER and Groupama gybed a bit early but made it work. We gybed in front of Telefonica and held them off to the finish to preserve our podium position. My college coaches always taught me to “win a side” of the race course. We won our side. Problem was our side lost out.
It was a saving grace to get on the podium overall, though. To think that we were on the podium every single offshore leg and in-port race except three — out of 18 chances. After the in-port race in China, and just before the midway point in the race, we had about half the points of race leader Telefonica: 53 to 101. And we didn’t quit. Not a single member of our sailing or shore team quit. Believe me, we all had moments that we wondered what the heck was going on but kept to the course, and in the end we have something very solid to be proud of.
This race teaches you a lot about yourself and life in general. It’s about dealing with adversity at a very high level. And keeping emotionally under control when things are going great. Minimize the highs and the lows and usually things work out. That is what we did to the best of our abilities. Our highs … clearly the leg wins into Itajai, Brazil and Miami. Our lows … for me there were two of them. The first was obviously the moment after we pulled our broken mast out of the ocean on Leg 1 and I realized we were in the middle of nowhere. The second was leaving from China after the restart day when the leg was split into two stages. A staggered start was set up for the fleet based on finish time in the first stage. We set out on the leg heading into an impending storm in the China Sea, and we started 37 minutes after the entire fleet. Of course this was a result of a disaster the day before. A wind hole in the middle of the course snatched our 5-minute lead away and turned it into a 37-minute deficit! Ouch.
No quitting. Of course there was maybe the most extraordinary Volvo leg ever, the storm-strewn Southern Ocean and our win into Itajai. The amazing fan support in so many places. The emotional roller coaster of coming and going at each port. It all adds up to our Volvo Ocean Race: our rendition. We did it our way, the PUMA way, the BERG way. And we are very proud of the message we brought to kids, adults, sailors and nonsailors alike. We did this because in the end we love it. The cold, wet, sleep-deprived job we call ocean racing. Not pretty, but effective. Scraggly beards and bad food and loud uncomfortable conditions. That is the life that we choose, and for the most part none of us would trade a single moment of it.
It is always interesting when we show people the interior of our carbon-fiber rocket ship. They smile and shrug their shoulders and wonder aloud what the heck makes people live like this. It’s simple. It is the moments that we share amongst the crew that only we have had and will remember for the rest of our lives. We have lived through the good and the bad as a team and a family. It has been worth the exhaustion. But now that we are done we can relax and consider this job well-done as a completed chapter in our lives. Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012. I can’t believe it is over.
Ken Read is skipper of the PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG team, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. The 39,000-nautical-mile around-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 finished in Galway, Ireland. Follow the race at www.volvooceanrace.com.