Let's hear it for the super-subs

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Let's hear it for the super-subs
 
They say one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity, and that certainly was the case for reserve sailors who were given the chance to prove they could step up to challenges as big as the Southern Ocean, often with barely any notice.

Be it an email with a subject line "get your boots ready" or a hurried face-to-face with the skipper just minutes before the start of an in-port race, each substitute was ecstatic to get called up.

Some, like PUMA's Thomas Johanson, replaced injured sailors only to get injured themselves. THen there was CAMPER's Nick Burridge, who realised a childhood dream and helped set the race's 24-hour distance record.

All stepped up with a level of commitment equal to the men who raced every hour, minute and second of the 2011-12 edition.

One of the surprise packages of this race was Team Sanya's Martin Kirketerp, arguably the most over-qualified shore crewman, who replaced Ryan Houston in Leg 5 and Jared Henderson in Leg 7.

The 29-year-old Dane won Olympic gold in the 49er class at the 2008 Olympics along side Jonas Warrer, beating Team Telefónica's duo Iker Martínez and Xabi Fernández in the process.

Kirketerp described stepping up as crew for the Southern Ocean leg as a "baptism of fire", and it certainly was. Just days into the leg Sanya was forced to return to port with a broken rudder. Fortunately for him at least, Kirketerp was given a second chance two legs later.

Just one hour before the departure ceremony commenced in Miami, Kirketerp was still doing his shore crew duties, diving on Sanya and scrubbing the hull clean ahead of racing.

But in this, his second time subbing, it was easier to switch his mind from shore crew to sailor.

"You've just got to do what you have to do,'' he said. "Now, I'm not thinking about the shore duties and diving, I'm thinking about racing. You just have to get your head up to where you have to be."

Leg 7 also presented opportunity for another rookie, 28-year-old New Zealander Nick Burridge. With bowman Mike Pammenter ousted with a back injury, Burridge was given a chance to grab his lifetime's ambition.

"It is my childhood dream,'' he said. "For me it's everything. Ever since I was out on my old man's power boat, I think I was about three, and Lion New Zealand sailed into Auckland, you know, you kind of decide that's what you want to do."

With Pammenter still recuperating Burridge had a second ride on the red boat for the Leg 8 race from Lisbon to Lorient, and boy was it a leg to be in on, with the team beating their own IWC Schaffhausen 24-Hour Record for the race, notching a blistering 566 nm in 24 hours on June 14.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG had two subs, with Thomas Johanson replacing Kelvin Harrap on Leg 5 and America's Cup sailor Shannon Falcone replacing Casey Smith in Leg 6.

Both had competed in the Volvo previously and were keen to return. It was a tough ride for Johanson, however, as he was smashed down onto the deck by a massive wave, dislocating his right shoulder just 15 hours into racing.

Skipper Ken Read described the agonising moment when onboard medics Rome Kirby, Michi Mueller and Jonathan Swain popped it back into place.

"All of a sudden it was like 'Eureka' and you just saw Thomas's eyes open up," Read said. "It was instantaneous relief."

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing also subbed in two sailors who turned out to be key players for the remainder of the race.

Volvo newcomer Paul Wilcox replaced Andrew Lewis from Leg 4 on and second-time competitor and all-round Aussie larrikin Anthony "Nocka" Nossiter replaced Justin Ferris from Leg 5.

For Nocka it was a huge change of pace from training for the Olympics in the Finn dinghy class, while for Wilcox it was less of a transition, having been training twice a day since the start of the campaign to ensure he was ready should the opportunity present itself.

Whether the chance to fill the boots of another creates future opportunities for the sailors is yet to be seen, but as Wilcox said just having the chance to race with sailing's elite is opportunity enough.

"I'm getting on one of these boats, something I've always wanted to do, and sailing with people who have done the Olympics, Volvos and the America's Cup," he said. "Iit is amazing."