Groupama sailing team claimed a dramatic Leg 4 victory on Saturday after the discovery of a hole in their bow threatened to sink their lead within 100 miles of the Auckland finish.
"It feels amazing. This is a childhood dream for me" - Groupama bowman Brad Marsh
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 take line honours 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.
"I'm pretty sure we're going to have a good time here with all the sailing fans. It's a good place to win for sure."
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.
"The key thing for this leg was to be quick and to make good decisions," he said. "We knew we had to do both of those things and we did. This is where we ended up.
"The turning point in the leg was when we made a very bold call with PUMA in the north and it paid off. That was the decisive moment."
Winning the unofficial race to be the first Kiwi home was elated 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 feels amazing,” the 28-year-old Aucklander said. "It’s a childhood dream for me. I didn’t allow myself to think about winning up until today. But the excitement set in as we came down the coast and I realised it was all going to happen."
Groupama have stymied Team Telefónica’s winning streak of three consecutive leg wins and claimed 30 points that will shoot them to the top of the leaderboard with a total of 103.
But, barring any major incidents Team Telefónica will regain top spot when they finish later today, having entered Leg 4 28 points clear of Groupama and 18 points ahead of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand.
Meanwhile, the race for the remaining podium positions continues, with PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG holding a narrow lead over Telefónica and CAMPER.
Leg 4 began in Sanya back on February 19 with a Stage 1 sprint designed to keep the fleet out of the worst of the weather in the South China Sea.
Stage 2, over 5,220 nm, began with a staggered start based on finishing positions in that first stage.
After finishing third in the Stage 1 day race, Groupama 4 led the fleet out into the South China Sea, probably the most dangerous section of the leg.
On day two, skipper Cammas took the decision to go south and by 2200 CAMPER had taken a slim lead after a day of horrible upwind slamming.
The wind soon died but the sea state remained big and sloppy and the exit of the South China Sea looked to be a painful affair.
A change of waypoint dropped Groupama to fourth on day four but they were back in front the following day as the fleet kept tracking north towards Japan.
The key move from Groupama came on day seven as they split from CAMPER to a more northerly position. It set them back on the leaderboard in terms of distance to finish but gave them a position from which to control the fleet, by moving north or south according to the wind pressure.
They led the fleet through the Pacific Ring of Fire and never relinquished the advantage.