For the first time in the race’s 39-year-history four boats were still in with a realistic chance of winning with a matter of days remaining. The high-tech third generation Volvo Open 70s made offshore racing appear like match racing and time and again thousands of miles of ocean racing came down to minutes and seconds at the finish line.
The sailors pushed themselves and their yachts to the absolute brink, breaking bones, boats and records, while taking on hurricane force winds, mountainous seas and extreme temperatures.
Groupama sailing team claimed an overall victory in their maiden appearance in the world’s longest and toughest sporting event. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand fought back to finish second and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG rounded out the podium in third.
Team Telefónica enjoyed months at the head of the leaderboard thanks to victories in the opening three legs only for the crack of a second rudder breaking to sound the end of their chances on Leg 8 from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient, France.
On the Leg 9 race to the finish at Galway, the podium places remained up for grabs, with PUMA, CAMPER and Telefónica all in with a shot.
Tensions mounted to fever pitch as the compressed fleet rounded Fastnet Rock with barely a moment to take in the iconic sailing landmark, but soon the finish order became clear.
“It's a very happy moment for us and for all the team,'' 39-year-old skipper Franck Cammas said to the roars of tens of thousands of fans who came out to welcome Groupama in Galway. “I didn't think we could win. This is my dream.”
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing placed fifth overall after winning three in-port races and one offshore leg and Team Sanya, the only second generation Volvo Open 70, rounded out the fleet in sixth place.
PUMA skipper Ken Read reflected on the accomplishment of finishing the Volvo Ocean Race.
“As athletes in a high-profile sport like this we cherish the opportunity to race against the best and that's what we've all done here for nine months,’’ he said. “There's always a winner, there's always a loser, but at the same time there's the accomplishment of actually finishing this race.”
Here's how it all panned out:
Leg 1 – 6,500 nautical miles from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa
The opening leg of the epic ocean marathon was a test of resolve on water and a logistical nightmare on shore. In the first 24 hours Sanya and Abu Dhabi were forced out with hull damage and a broken mast respectively. PUMA had to retire later as well, having broken their mast and being forced to take refuge on the world’s smallest inhabited island group at Tristan da Cunha. Telefónica surged to victory, followed by CAMPER and Groupama sailing team.
For a full Leg 1 review, click HERE
Leg 2 – 5,430 nautical miles from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi
Expect the unexpected was the catch phrase of the second leg, which was split into two by race management to counter the threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean. Telefónica won the first stage by just 57 seconds over CAMPER. In a devastating blow, Sanya were again forced to retire this time taking haven at Madagascar with rigging damage. The yachts were loaded onto a ship and transported from a secret location to the second start at Sharjah. Despite the scare of discovering a gash in their hull, Groupama raced through to victory in Stage 2, overhauling Telefónica with 10 miles to go.
Leg 2 review HERE
Leg 3 – 4,600 nautical miles from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China
Telefónica again claimed victory, but nothing else about Leg 3 was run of the mill. Again the leg was split in two and the boats loaded onto a container ship. Abu Dhabi snatched an unexpected victory within hundreds of metres of the first stage finish; despite Telefónica leading from the get go. Stage 2 saw the lead change several times as the fleet raced in the treacherous South China Sea. Telefónica busted their vital code zero sail, PUMA damaged their daggerboard after a collision with a tree trunk and CAMPER’s Aussie skipper Chris Nicholson marked Australia Day by claiming the lead. But, Telefónica surged back to win, followed by Groupama, CAMPER, PUMA, Abu Dhabi and Team Sanya.
Leg 3 review HERE
Leg 4 – 5,220 nautical miles from Sanya to Auckland, New Zealand
After race management delayed the start because of a threatening storm, the fleet got underway in a bruising race that saw Groupama claim their first leg win. The fleet took a dramatic split with Telefónica, CAMPER and Sanya choosing to go west through the Solomon Islands, but it wasn’t enough. Despite damaging their bow and taking on hundreds of litres of seawater, which prompted the famous quote from Media Crew Member Yann Riou, “If we don’t sink, we win”, the French team cruised to victory. It was a dream finish into Auckland for the team’s Kiwi bowman Brad Marsh. PUMA finished second, followed by Telefónica, CAMPER, Abu Dhabi and Team Sanya.
Leg 4 review HERE
Leg 5 – 6,705 nautical miles from Auckland to Itajaí, South America
The Southern Ocean leg lived up to expectations, forcing all except one of the six boats to stop for repairs – or worse – in the race for survival. Team Sanya were forced to retire with rudder damage in the opening 24 hours, having to ship their yacht to Savannah for repairs before rejoining the fleet in Miami. Abu Dhabi were also forced to return to port with a damaged hull, but returned to racing. Meanwhile the fleet endured well in excess of 60-knot winds, but worse still was the sea state, which resulted in one of the greatest attrition rates in the history of the race. Teams were forced to throttle back as the reality of the situation set in. Abu Dhabi and CAMPER were both forced to Puerto Montt in Chile to rendezvous with shore crew for repairs, and Telefónica stopped at Cabo de Hornos National Park to repair their damage and unload injured bowman Antonio Cuervas-Mons. PUMA and Groupama continued unscathed, until Groupama devastatingly broke their mast and were forced to stop at Punta del Este to set up a jury rig. Meanwhile, in in what threatened to be one of the greatest ever comebacks, Telefónica surged back to contention, but it wasn’t enough to topple PUMA who claimed their first leg win. Telefónica were second, followed by Groupama and CAMPER. Abu Dhabi shipped to Itajaí.
Leg 5 review HERE
Leg 6 – 4,800 nautical miles from Itajaí to Miami, USA
PUMA claimed back-to-back leg wins, racing to a dream hometown victory in Miami. From fast reaching, to frustrating lulls, the climb up the coast of South America packed it all. CAMPER finished second, Groupama third and Telefónica fourth, creating a “mirror-image” on water of the overall leaderboard that resulted in just 17 points separating the top four teams overall. Abu Dhabi finished fifth, while Sanya continued en route via ship to Savannah for repairs.
Leg 6 review HERE
Leg 7 - 3,590 nautical miles from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal
Alberto, the first tropical storm of the 2012 hurricane season, had everyone talking. The opening night was brutal, but the fleet survived to punch into the North Atlantic sleigh ride in an easterly moving depression. But it was Abu Dhabi who played the mix-and-match weather best to race to their first leg victory, although Groupama threatened to upset them at the end, closing to within one mile in the Tagus River. Groupama finished second and jumped into the overall lead. PUMA took third, Telefónica fourth, CAMPER fifth and Sanya sixth. With the top four teams split by just 21 points, the stage was set for the closest Volvo Ocean Race finish in its 39-year history.
Leg 7 review HERE
Leg 8 - 1,940 nautical miles from Lisbon to Lorient, France
It was short, but far from sweet. From drifting in the Azores to racing into the eye of a storm, where record-breaking speeds and heartbreaking boat damage resulted, the shortest leg of the race yet didn’t fall short of drama. The peak of the action came when the teams reached top speeds in the North Atlantic, where CAMPER notched 565.84 nautical miles to set the race record 24-hour distance. As the fleet balanced risk versus reward in a massive storm, Telefónica suffered a heartbreaking fate, breaking both their rudders and limping to the finish knowing full well their chance of an overall race victory were shattered. Meanwhile, Groupama raced to a dream home victory, followed by CAMPER, PUMA, Abu Dhabi, Telefónica and Sanya.
Leg 8 review HERE
Leg 9 – 550 nautical miles from Lorient to Galway, Ireland
The final leg was more a long in-port sprint than a short offshore race. Sleep was unthinkable as everything was left to play for. CAMPER were penalised early for an incident on the start line, but fought back with just six minutes separating PUMA, Telefónica, Groupama and CAMPER around Fastnet Rock. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi suffered keel problems that slowed the black boat to about 90 per cent and Sanya struggled to keep up in their second hand boat. As the breeze off the Irish coast eased, tensions mounted, and CAMPER edged into the lead with 10 miles remaining to claim their first offshore win. Groupama finished second, securing overall victory, PUMA finished third, Telefónica fourth, Sanya fifth and Abu Dhabi sixth. With just the Discover Ireland In-Port Race left to sail Groupama were confirmed as overall race winners, with CAMPER needing only to finish the in-port to secure second place, ahead of third placed PUMA.