Volvo Ocean Race: Well deserved victory for Groupama
Groupama survived a late scare to secure a dramatic victory on Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 on Saturday, crossing the finish line shortly before midnight in Auckland to end Team Telefónica's winning streak and give Kiwi bowman Brad Marsh the homecoming of a lifetime.
The crew on the French VO70 had to isolate a leak and furiously pump out around a ton of water after suffering damage to the bow within hours of the finish line, following repeated upwind pounding in eight-metre waves over recent days.
"For about two hours we were swimming downstairs trying to find the hole and block it and get the water out. It was quite a feverish sort of moment for a while there," said Brad Marsh. "We are not too sure what happened. We will get the boat out tomorrow and try and see what happened. At the moment we think we might have hit something."
Quick crew work averted a potential disaster, ensuring that Marsh would be the first New Zealander into Auckland, with Puma still more than 100nm behind, locked in a tense battle with Telefónica and Camper for the remaining podium places.
"I'm feeling very excited. It's a great day for Groupama 4 and it's great to arrive here first into Auckland," said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas after the crew had been greeted by two Waka Hourua – traditional double-hulled Polynesian sailing canoes – as they entered Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour.
The French team rallied in eight metre seas and 30 knot headwinds to isolate the leak and drain 1.5 tonnes of water before crossing the finish line at 10:33:47 UTC/23:33:47 local, more than 80 nautical miles ahead of their nearest competitor.
Skipper Franck Cammas was thrilled with the win and becoming the first French team to notch a victory in a Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race finish into Auckland, although 33 Export did win on handicap back in 1977-78.
"It's a great day for Groupama 4 and it's a great to arrive here first into Auckland,'' Cammas said. "It is the first win for Team Groupama in the Volvo Ocean Race and it is a win in Auckland. New Zealand is a special place with a lot of fans of sailing so it is great for us. It is a good place to win."
Cammas, a first time Volvo Ocean Race competitor, said the race was won and lost on a bold decision made by navigator Jean-Luc Nélias. "In terms of strategy we did a big and good move in the northwest with Puma and as a result us and Puma finish first and second in this leg."
The key to win is always the same - we have to be fast, we have to have a good trajectory and have good strategy so we achieved these three things. It is very good for us.
Winning the unofficial race to be the first Kiwi home was elated Groupama bowman Brad Marsh, who flew a New Zealand flag overhead as the team were welcomed to Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour by hundreds of family, friends and fans.
"It is absolutely amazing," said Marsh. "It is something you could never dream of doing. It is far above that. Coming down the coast in such bad weather all the way down and I was thinking oh no, we are going to arrive at night and no one will be there. But it was an absolutely fantastic turn out with everyone out there cheering and hooting horns and lights blaring – it was really cool. The amount of boats that came was absolutely fantastic."
"It confirms that this is what are intentions are and that the last leg wasn’t a fluke and it was more bad luck on the first couple of legs," said Damian Foxall. "Now we are finally getting back into Telefonica and hopefully it is all up from here. Certainly they are not invincible. I think it will be a tight race all the way through to the finish and we will all have our day and it is a question of who is going to do it most often."
From Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race:
Photos: Marc Bow/Volvo Ocean Race