"The best finish ever," raved Ericsson 3's Magnus Olsson as his team pulled up to the dock at Sentosa Island in Singapore. The irrepressible Swede, a veteran of six editions of the race wasn't finished: "It was just incredible. If you like sailing, you have to love the Volvo Ocean Race...2,000 miles and just a few seconds between us? Come on, it was great."
He was describing the most dramatic finish in Volvo Ocean Race history, if not the absolute closest. But four boats finishing within 20 minutes, the last three separated by just two and a half minutes, after sailing for over nine days and 1,950 miles, isn't something that happens all the time in an offshore race.
Telefonica Blue was the eventual victor, but it was a close-fought battle right down to the wire, the victory not secure until the finish line was in sight.
"As predicted it wasn't over until we were close to the finish," skipper Bouwe Bekking said. "We had all the excitement in the last 50 miles, dodging fishing nets, zigzagging around tugboats, hundreds of commercial ships, and then the wind which was ranging from 20 knots to nearly zero...but we pulled it off and all the guys did a marvellous job. We couldn't have wished for a better Christmas present.
"I have never seen the guys so happy. I have known them for quite a while and normally they are very cool but they were just ecstatic when we went through the finish. It is a huge thing for us."
A hard-fought second place
While Telefonica Blue eventually broke through this afternoon and put some distance between themselves and those chasing, the rest of the leading pack weren't so fortunate. This was intense boat on boat racing; always within sight, usually within hailing distance and at times, close enough to see the ‘whites of their eyes'.
Sleep was in short supply over the final 48 hours and so was food. There simply wasn't time to do anything but make the boat go fast: "Most of us don't remember when we last slept or ate," said PUMA skipper Kenny Read.
In the event, it was Read's PUMA who emerged victorious in the fight for second place, just 1:47 ahead of Ericsson 3, who in turn beat stable mate and overall race leader Ericsson 4 by just 40 seconds. It was, by any standard, an incredible finish.
"Never done anything like that before," a relieved Read said from on board il mostro moments after the finish. "And I'm not really sure I want to do anything like that again! It was an amazing roller coaster...Unbelievable. Hats off to the Telefonica guys. They did a really nice job. They just snuck through 100 miles out and didn't look back. So congratulations to them."
For Ericsson 3, it marks the third consecutive leg they've been the third boat across the finishing line (although a scoring penalty on leg one pushed them further down on the results). Skipper Anders Lewander was one of the few who seemed to revel in the challenges of the leg.
"It's been so enormously tough all of this leg...but it's been really amazing. I've really enjoyed it because of the close tactics and the mix of conditions," he said. "It is hard work but the close encounters and the whole situation on this leg has been really challenging...I'm really proud of the guys and happy with our achievement."