PUMA held firm in the face of a relentless attack from Telefónica to clinch an epic Leg 5 victory on Friday, crossing the finish line in Itajaí, Brazil with a slim winning margin after the Spanish team had threatened to complete one of the greatest sporting comebacks.
After more then 7,500 nautical miles of racing from Auckland, starting with a first-night battering as bad as any in the race’s history and on through brutal conditions in the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, PUMA’s Mar Mostro crossed the Itajaí finish in brilliant sunshine at 16:09:51 local time (19:09:51 UTC) to take their first victory of the 2011-12 edition.
Telefónica crossed at 16:22:29 local after their comeback came up just short.
Both PUMA and Telefónica received heroes' welcomes with an armada of spectator boats up to a hundred strong escorting them for the final 10 miles to the finish.
Ashore, crowds lined both sides of the river leading to the race village, where thousands more cheered and waved as the crews arrived at the dock.
Skippers Ken Read and Iker Martínez each paid tribute to the warmth of the welcome their teams had received.
"This is amazing," Martínez said on the dock as he waved to the cheering race fans. "So many people here for our arrival, such a surprise and such an honour."
"I want to thank everyone for coming to see us," Read told the crowd at the prizegiving ceremony. "Many of us have done a lot of Volvo Races but we have never received a welcome like this. You are the best. Thank you so much."
It was clear by Friday morning that Telefónica were going to give PUMA a real run for their money. A deficit that had stood at hundreds of nautical miles came all the way down to 10, then two and at one stage just 0.7 -- a little over a kilometre -- as Telefónica consistently enjoyed better breeze.
But crucially, while the breeze was light, it remained relatively stable and PUMA were able to avoid the sort of wind hole that cost them so dearly on the first stage of leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland.
Over the final 20 nm, skipper Ken Read kept his rivals at bay over a match race up the coast, putting his boat between Telefónica and flawlessly completing a series of gybes to ensure there would be no final heroics.
It was an extraordinary finish to the battle for first place in a leg that saw five of the six boats forced to stop for repairs.
Telefónica were 400 nm behind the leaders when they resumed racing following a pit stop to work on structural damage to their boat. They quickly began to reduce that gap and when Groupama were forced out following a dismasting they were suddenly in a two-way battle for first.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG score 30 points for their win, taking their total to 113 points. It means they are just 34 points behind overall leaders Team Telefónica, despite having been forced to retire from Leg 1 because of a broken mast.
A mix of emotions from elation to relief was evident on the faces of the 11 crew on board PUMA as they celebrated their victory.
"I've never done such a tough offshore leg in my life," Read said moments after stepping shore. "We ran out of food a day and a half ago and it''s been pretty intense. Our hearts go out to the crews who have suffered damage. We know what that's like and it's even worse when it's in a place like the Southern Ocean."
PUMA have had a steady rise since the devastating blow of their broken mast on Leg 1. In the past four scoring events PUMA have finished second three times and now first, with real momentum with the American-based team as they head towards Leg 6 to Miami in the United States.
- 6 Jul 2012Skippers talk it up ahead of final in-port fight
- 22 Apr 2012Everything to play for on way to Miami
- 13 Apr 2012The big debate - skippers comment on Leg 5 attrition
- 6 Apr 2012Dockside with PUMA and Telefónica
- 31 Mar 2012Telefónica resume Leg 5, minus Ñeti
- 8 Nov 2011Lonely warriors follow traditional trade route