Sailing: A grey, wet, miserable dawn – and it's beautiful

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The Independent Online

It is not a glorious sight, but it is a glorious feeling. Just after dawn on a wet, grey and frankly rather miserable Friday morning Assa Abloy sails over the finish line into Auckland after a tough and gruelling eight-day haul from Sydney via Hobart.

Despite it only just getting light and the distinctly unfriendly weather, we are escorted across the line by a flotilla of small craft who have come out in the early hours to greet us.

Unlike previous legs there are no boats in front of us – like a dream come true, we are first in – and the boys are beside themselves with excitement. The mighty Assa Abloy has won not only the Sydney to Hobart classic, but also leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world. Having worked so hard throughout the holiday period, this is the best Christmas present we could have.

After disappointing finishes in the first two legs we needed a good result, and this was just what we needed to get right back into the race. By the time we actually arrived at the dock, a large crowd had gathered to welcome us in – our finish went out live on New Zealand television. In some ways this is the best of all the legs to win because we are in a country which is alive with sailing interest, and all eyes here are on the Volvo race.

Although we are all completely exhausted, battered and bruised, the smiles on the faces of all the crew were simply priceless. Couple this with the excitement and utter joy of our sponsors as they greeted us back and you will see that it is hard to think of a better way to start the new year.

It is a truly amazing feeling. I have won yacht races before, but never as skipper in a race as prestigious and important as this one.

Looking back, this was a tough and difficult leg during which we saw some pretty wild conditions. The boat handled it well and suffered no damage, but the same cannot be said of our bodies. The carnage took its toll. For most of the race we had had two crew down – one had taken such a bad fall early on that he could not come on deck at all, and another became so exhausted and dehydrated that he collapsed and fainted. From then on he was bed-ridden with what we now believe to be kidney stones.

Suddenly the workload for 12 guys (which is plenty high enough on its own) had to be carried out by just 10 of us – extra shifts, more work and less sleep for all. An already tough leg became an almost impossible one.

Fortunately for us our navigator, Mark Rudiger, had put us in a position to take an early lead on the fleet and by sheer determination, good sailing and hard work we managed to hold on to it until the end.

It was by no means plain sailing, though. We got becalmed going around the north point of New Zealand and a comfortable cushion of 70 miles was quickly whittled away to a distinctly nerve-racking 20. Somehow we managed to keep our cool, sail smart and retain the lead.

Sitting here now in my hotel room I can still hardly believe it – before we had even showered and got into dry clothes our devoted shore crew had started cleaning the boat down, carrying out post-race checks and planning the stop-over work list.

We'll have a crew debrief tomorrow and then it will be back to work as usual. From here we have to make sure we keep on improving and pumping out the results the rest of the way around the world. We have proved we can do it for one leg – the next six await.

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