Sailing: Minutes that sank weeks of hard graft

Volvo Ocean Race: After 6,000 miles at the front, one tactical error turns pacesetters into also-rans
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The Independent Online

Safely ashore in Sydney after a 34-day, 6,550 nautical-mile slog from Cape Town, I am only just coming to terms with finishing in sixth place after spending 90 per cent of this second leg in close contention, with a chance of winning it. We are slowly licking our wounds from such a devastating end, and with the benefit of hindsight and an extensive debrief it is all too clear where we went wrong. A tactical error some 500 miles out of Sydney while we were in very light conditions ended up dropping us from third place to sixth in a matter of hours.

It was like a bad dream – my first leg as skipper and we end up with a result like that which I really felt we did not deserve. We sailed all the way through the rigours of the Southern Ocean and coped superbly with all the dangers and pitfalls that come with that, all to get what transpired to be the last tactical decision of the leg badly wrong. And pay for that error we certainly did. Not only did we lose out on News Corp, who were marginally ahead of us at the time, but we also lost two places to boats we had been previously handsomely ahead of. The crew were devastated – not only for themselves but also for Assa Abloy, who are so supportive.

Our debrief has indicated just what we need to work on most to prevent the likelihood of such a tactical blunder occurring again. Work on the boat started the morning after we arrived, and the plan for the whole stopover has been completed. Putting on a brave face has been hard but I think we have done a good job, our sponsors have been incredibly understanding and Sydney, as ever, has been very welcoming.

From a personal point of view I was very pleased to see my wife, Lisa, and the girls' team she is skippering on Amer Sports Too arrive in the early hours of Saturday morning. In order to avoid any chance of being accused of offering outside assistance I don't have any contact whatsoever with Lisa during a leg, which is hard but a fact of life we both have to come to terms with. They had a particularly hard time and, I believe, have done a fantastic job in getting here. They appeared on great form – especially considering they had spent the majority of the time in the Southern Ocean without proper cooking facilities.

The memories of how cold and miserable it was in the Southern Ocean for us are still in my mind – trying to imagine what it would be like without hot food or even a hot drink is just unimaginable – how they coped I'll never know.

As a team we are getting stuck into our workload, preparing for the next leg to Auckland, which starts on Boxing Day, and trying to make sure that we all get at least a few days off. Despite our disappointing results in the first two legs we have still only completed 23 per cent of the race points-wise and we still look ahead with optimism. Illbruck produced another brilliant leg, sailing smart and fast again, and remain the firm favourites for overall victory, but there are plenty of miles to go yet and much can happen before the finish.

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