Girls have landed
It was 0100 in the morning, local time, and the team were the last boat to finish leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race (seventh place after SEB's retirement), yet Lisa McDonald's Amer Sports Too were greeted by one of the largest crowds the basin here in Auckland has seen for any of the arrivals.
The all-women crew, who crossed the finish line off Orakei Wharf at 11:27:52 GMT, (00:27:52 local time), pulled into the arrival's pontoon with beaming smiles, happy to again be with civilisation and free from the torment of racing alone across the Tasman Sea. "It's tough out there," said a relieved navigator Genevieve White. "It takes a lot to keep motivated, but we're tough girls, and so we were determined to keep pushing hard."
McDonald's team have had an unimaginable run of bad luck over the past 10 days. "I'm not going to call it a sprint ever again in my life. It is a leg that has a bit of everything," said skipper McDonald, clearly pleased to be back on dry land. "Everything from waterspouts, very large fish, broken bits on board and two stopovers in Hobart, unplanned. Unfortunately we are just a day late for the party here."
Half way across the Bass Strait it was disaster 'strike one' when their forestay broke forcing them to make an emergency dial downwind while attempting to attach spare halyards to the bow to secure the mast. Fortunately the jib was up to provide support to the mast and the girls survived this potentially devastating situation and keep going. Shortly before crossing the Hobart finish line the girls pulled into a cove to collect replacement forestay parts to begin repairs.
Prior to this 'strike two' had occurred when Amer Sports Too collided with two submerged objects, one confirmed as a shark when it floated out the back of the boat, the other unidentified. When the team arrived in port Keryn Henderson spent 30 minutes to the water making dives to the rudder and eventually confirmed that there were major cracks in the rudder. The call was made to stop for repairs - but under races rules this was none too straightforward.
First the team had to return to the restart line off the Iron Pot before sailing back into port for a second pitstop to haul out the boat and fix the rudder. The repairs took 24 hours putting them out of the running on leg three. "I was gutted. What do you do when you don't see the damage for yourself hands on," remarked McDonald as she recollected the fateful moment. "We didn’t realize just how bad it was until the rudder came out. It was pretty scary actually." What's impressive is the team's determination to keep going. They could have easily turned back to Eden after breaking their forestay, made repairs, and headed to Auckland. Instead they carried on.
Unfortunately it is unlikely the girls will feature at the top of the fleet for leg four, the second and final Southern Ocean leg. Though they may have the mental attitude and ability to succeed their physical strength is likely to let them down. Leg two saw the team slip back from the fleet before eventually falling off the back of a weather system a position from which there was no hope of recovery. Leg four could potentially be tougher leaving the girls with few opportunities to excel. From Rio the legs get shorter and potentially this could mean the girls have more of a chance?
In leg one the girls battled with SEB and djuice for nearly 3,000 miles across the South Atlantic - the majority of which was upwind. They arrived only a couple of hours after Knut Frostad's djuice, a boat not only all men, but also made up of sailors with much more time to prepare for the event. Leg two started well for the women, but it didn't take long to realise they would be finishing well behind the fleet in Sydney as they gradually fell away from the fleet.
When the team left Sydney things looked to be on the up as they rounded the first mark alongside Amer Sports One, the boys team, and clear ahead of Assa Abloy. But again the team started to slip back - unfortunately they were overwhelmed by damage and bad luck before any judgements could be made.
As with Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One the team are behind on sail development and so they will see some second generation sails coming on board for leg four. But will this be enough to secure them a higher finishing position?