Sailing: Too much agony before we could enjoy ecstasy

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The Independent Online

Just two days after the finish of leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race here in Miami and the reality of victory has not truly sunk in. After a leg of incredible intensity, coming in top of the pile was sweet. For two weeks solid we battled hard with Tyco for second place, with illbruck what looked a safe distance ahead. We proved otherwise.

The crew worked like men possessed from start to finish and in the end it all paid off. On the way we made plenty of errors and had our fair share of ups and downs. But we must have made fewer mistakes than the rest. Our speed was good, our tactics solid and, most of all, our will to win stayed high. The one "good cloud" that gave us the eventual jump on Tyco and allowed us to make significant advances on illbruck may have been the same one that was illbruck's downfall – a boat-handling error caused them to break a spinnaker that they needed to hold us off.

We caught right up to them, and then had another full-on match-race battle that went on overnight and eventually allowed us to get ahead by morning. Sunrise brought a lighter wind that then appeared to favour them. Another bout followed, they got the better of us, and with some 50 miles to go we found ourselves a mile behind. Nightfall was on us, but the Assa Abloy boys had far from given up.

Changeable light winds and slightly different tactics then gave us the upper hand. Six miles from the finish I was at the helm and was just about to admit to myself that we had finally done it. At that very second the wind vanished and we actually started going backwards. The total silence on the boat said it all – two-and-a-half weeks' work and then this.I could almost have started crying. Twenty minutes of pure hell followed as we slowly drifted away from our goal. Our patience was eventually rewarded – the breeze gently filled in and we inched our way towards the linesafely ahead of illbruck. Not until the gun went did we really feel safe, but boy, what a feeling.

Overall that puts us in second place, just a little closer to illbruck, and a small margin ahead of the pack behind.The chances of catching illbruck may look slim but we still have four legs to go (44 per cent of the points are still left to be accounted for). The once- obvious gap between them and the rest of the fleet is not so clear any more.

Over half the race gone and what have I learned? Well, for sure being skipper is just as hard as I thought it would have been. I will admit that in Cape Town, where I was asked to do it, I was terrified. I also feel that I have aged about six years, but I will relish the memories for ever.

As for the race itself, I've been so wrapped up I don't have a great feel for how it is perceived in the outside world. From what my mum says it's a huge success – but I guess she may be a little biased. The internet hasmade a big jump in getting offshore racing out to the public. From our sponsors' point of view the race appears a huge success. The stopovers may not be that popular with the sailors (due to the workload) but they do provide a massive opportunity for the sponsors. Assa Abloy has over 2,000 corporate guests coming to Miami alone.

Much talk has gone on about the future of the race; for me, all my energy is going into finishing this one. I do have some thoughts but they are pretty personal ones and are more based on what type of boats I like sailing. The real issue is to make it a format that keeps the audience, the media and therefore the sponsors happy, it is their money and they need to see a return for it. That side of it is all a bit above my station – I'm just a simple sailor at heart.

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