At 12,300 nm it is the longest leg in the 36-year history of the event and the first time that 60-year old Olsson, the oldest competitor in this year’s race, has taken part as skipper, having competed five times previously as a crew member. His young navigator, Norway’s Aksel Magdahl (30), is half the age of Olsson and is competing in this competition for the first time.
In addition Olsson and his Norwegian navigator, the Nordic crew for leg 5 comprised watch captain Thomas Johanson (Helsinki, Finland), helmsmen/trimmers Eivind Melleby (Oslo), Arve Roaas (Tonsberg, Norway), Martin Strömberg (Gothenburg, Sweden) and Magnus Wøxen (Stockholm), boat captain Jens Dolmer (Nyköbing Falster, Denmark), bowmen Anders Dahlsjö (Onsala, Sweden) and Martin Krite (Lund, Sweden) and media crewman Gustav Morin (Stockholm).
Olsson and his crew stepped ashore in the Marina da Gloria to a euphoric and emotional welcome after spending 40 days 05 hours 37 minutes and 57 seconds at sea and the huge smile on this popular skipper’s face spoke volumes.
Buoyed by the result, Olsson said: "It's unbelievable. We actually deserve it. We had a fantastic strategy when we needed it. Aksel did a really good job on that. We were so tired but we had a great fighting spirit to the end. We sailed really well, and our performance was 100 per cent all the time. We were on the borderline of destroying the boat, but we managed to find a balance and we managed to keep the boat in one piece.
"It's hard to describe my feelings. Everyone is proud and happy with the victory. It was more of a team effort than I've ever been associated with in yachting. Individually, we're not as strong as Ericsson 4 or Puma. But collectively, we're a great team."
Aksel Magdahl said, “It was a tough leg and I thought we would struggle more, but to then get to the second scoring gate first was amazing and to be here first is a bonus.”
This win is all the more poignant for the fact that the team had already been at sea for three days longer than the rest of the fleet when they arrived in the Marina da Gloria today having had no stopover in Qingdao to rest and unwind.
Olsson and his crew had just over an hour to load 40 days’ worth of food and diesel in Qingdao after finally completing leg four, and set sail again on the most demanding and potentially dangerous leg of the course, chasing the rest of the fleet that had already left seven hours previously.
Ericsson 3 had suffered serious structural damage during the gale-ridden leg four from Singapore to China. The team had been forced to suspend racing on 27 January when they were in serious danger of sinking, in order to limp into Taiwan where they made substantial repairs. They resumed racing on 11 February.
After starting leg five, Ericsson 3 was quickly back in contention, moving up to third place on day three, a position they made their own until, on day 19, 4 March, Olsson and his brave young navigator made their winning move. They ignored historic navigational strategy that declared ‘south was best’ and immediately after crossing the first scoring gate at latitude 36° in second place, they tacked northeast away from the fleet. Magdahl believed that the best course was to go north of the high pressure that sat between the fleet and Cape Horn and Olsson put all his faith on Magdahl’s shoulders.
"The true story is that Aksel saw the opportunity many days before the scoring gate," said Olsson. "He was well prepared. He saw it develop. When he presented the idea, it felt like he had thought it through."
Magdahl responded: “The northerly route didn’t seem special at the time but when all the rest did not follow us then it suddenly seemed a big decision and very important. It then became the biggest sailing decision of my life, the biggest sailing moment of my life, that is for sure."
Magdahl explained his strategy around the high pressure at the time: “18 hours before the gate I realised this high did not seem to move so fast anymore. I was also looking at a very interesting small, but powerful low pressure coming in from the northeast, and I thought a bit around whether it was possible to use this, rather than going slow south underneath the high pressure and even risking getting to close to it.”
Two days, later, the northern decision paid off and Ericsson 3 took the lead and held on to it tightly for 19 days until today, when the team rewrote the history books.
Ericsson 3 took the lead on 7 March, and then played it smart across the Southern Ocean, pushing when it had to and backing off other times.
"One of the hardest days was one night in Southern Ocean," said Johanson, the watch captain. " Ericsson 4 had gained quite a lot. I was on watch with Bagi (Wøxen) and thought we need to push a bit. The wind was blowing 35 to 40 knots. In that four-hour watch we averaged 26 knots boatspeed and gained back 8 miles on Ericsson 4. That was memorable."
Johanson also has fond memories of being aboard the yacht that led the fleet past Cape Horn. It was his first time around the Horn, but the fourth time a Johanson has rounded it. "My grandfather went around the Horn in 1901, and his father and mother before him," said Johanson. "It's been a childhood dream to round the Horn."
When the crew led around Cape Horn on 17 March, it looked like they would need six days to make the finish in Rio. Instead, it's taken the better part of nine days to complete the final 2,200 nautical miles.
"I knew it could fall apart, but always felt we'd pull it out," said Magdahl. "With that large a high-pressure area, there's always the chance someone could come right up to us. We just had to keep sailing our optimum route."
At the time of the Nordic crew's finish teammate Ericsson 4 was still in Stealth Mode. The International crew went into hiding yesterday afternoon at 1600 GMT. They'll emerge from Stealth at either 1600 GMT today or when they are 50 nautical miles from the finish.
Leg Five Finishing Order Rio
1. Ericsson 3: 8 points
Overall Leaderboard (Provisional)
1. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) 56.5 points (RACING)
2. PUMA (Ken Read/USA) 47 points (RACING)
3. Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) 46.5 points (RACING)
4. Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE) 43.5 (FINISHED)
5. Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) 34.5 (RACING)
6. Telefónica Black 21 (DNS)
7. Delta Lloyd 12 (DNS)
8. Team Russia 10.5 (DNS)
More photos on the following pages...