FINDING THE SILVER LINING
The clock showed 1am and the rain had been falling for hours, but as Telefonica Blue limped home last into Rio de Janeiro this morning they delivered a lesson in positive thinking.
"There's a lot to be pleased about," said skipper Bouwe Bekking.
"We are definitely able to challenge Ericsson 4," added navigator Tom Addis.
For an outsider it would have been easy to imagine the last 42 days, 22 hours, 55 minutes and 12,300 miles had been a glory procession for the Spanish team.
The reality, though, was anything but and the misery started before the start-gun had even fired in Qingdao.
They hit a rock in the pre-start, forcing them to return to port for 19 hours to assess and repair the damage. They then returned to the water, commenced the chase and, having finally caught the fleet, broke their forestay in the Southern Ocean, meaning they could not operate at 100% at a vital stage.
Added to a list of woes that included a severely delaminated mainsail and damaged check-stay - not to mention the submission of second place on the overall leaderboard to PUMA, as well as the increased deficit to 13 points against Ericsson 4 - it could be considered a trip to forget.
"It's a long way to go if you're not winning," said Michael Pammenter. "But these guys are all good professionals and got on with the job. We looked at the GPS and we actually sailed about 14,000 miles, a really long way. We all had frustrating moments, but you have to look beyond that. We had some bad luck but that's how it goes."
In parts, though, it was more than bad luck. Once past the first scoring gate, the team dived further into the Southern Ocean than anyone else and Addis admitted it was a strategic error.
"It wasn't the right move," he said, before praising the decision of Ericsson 3 to stay north in a move that ultimately won the leg. "Ericsson 3 made a fantastic call. We all saw that as a very risky option and thought we'd play it safe."
The team proceeded to head south, reaching the latitude of 42 degrees south - Ericsson 3 were a full eight degrees further north - when their forestay broke on March 6. Addis revealed the limitation posed, explaining: "Anything below 10 knots you are fully on the pace because we had our masthead zero sail.
"But anything between 10 and 20 knots we were probably three knots slower and forced to go probably 10 degrees lower upwind. Any upwind and close reaching we were really struggling until the breeze got right up. It was a big deal."
The damage occurred in the heart of that wind range, meaning Ericsson 4 and PUMA, who had also committed to that region of the course, were able to escape while Blue suffered.
"We lost the forestay at the worst time," Addis continued. "We were in that corner, Ericsson 4 managed to get out of there but we lost the forestay when we were at our maximum south. We got the shift we were after, but we couldn't do anything with it. We could have got out of there with Ericsson 4 and PUMA, maybe 70 miles behind if it hadn't gone."
Bekking does not know what caused the forestay to break. "We don't know at all why," he said. "We replaced it in Singapore and it just snapped. You never know with that kind of thing. The whole boat is rope or carbon and the only piece of metal on the boat breaks, so there you go."
Thereafter they regularly closed on fourth-placed Green Dragon, but never quite enough to reverse the positions.
It has expanded the gap between Blue and Ericsson 4, while PUMA now hold a 2.5-point cushion on the leaderboard. But there was little trace of despair at dockside. "It's just great to be here after a long leg," said Bekking.
Besides, he and his crew-mates took some positives from the experience.
"We feel really happy with how we went, especially leaving China when we were in the similar conditions and how well we were going," Bekking said. "That feels good.
"I think we have a really good chance (to win overall) actually," he continued. "I think Ericsson 4 will be scratching their heads a little bit because they haven't been winning the last three legs. They are definitely beatable I think and they might start worrying a little bit because the other boats have improved a lot."
Bekking also revealed the team's new, bigger rudders improved performance.
"Huge improvement on the reaching," he said. "I can't give a percentage but it felt really good and upwind as well."
Addis thinks they will come into their own on the next leg to Boston. "The next legs are reaching, and those are strong points for us," he said. "We are one of the quickest like that. Downwind Ericsson 4 have a small edge, but the next leg should be about reaching."
Bekking revealed the team is also considering seeking redress for the 19 hours lost after the collision with the rock. "We'll make a decision in the next 24 hours," he said, before hugging his family and dancing a conga with the local samba girls.
It was a positive tone to round off a torrid leg. As Bekking said: "There's more racing ahead."