Hard charging Groupama dominated the Oeiras In-Port Race, an upwind/downwind drag race along the narrow Tagus River in front the ancient, white-stoned city of Lisbon. Telefónica recklessly fouled PUMA at the start and the Spanish boat ended up finishing last yet again. PUMA’s wily skipper Ken Read pulled a rabbit out of his hat at the next to last mark, smoking the rest of the fleet out of nowhere and finishing second, followed by a very disappointed CAMPER.PAUL TODD - Volvo Ocean Race
As PUMA was leaving the dock in Lisbon to begin the 1,950 leg around the Azore Islands to Lorient, France, cagy skipper Ken Read chuckled, “Groupama are not going to feel very secure up there – they know there’s a lot of racing left.”IAN ROMAN - Volvo Ocean Race
PUMA nailed the brisk downwind start and led the pack out of Lisbon, with Groupama trailing in last.
But it was a different story when the fleet entered the Atlantic, reaching in ideal conditions. PUMA headed southeast, hoping to have a good angle when they turned north. And by the first night Telefónica had stormed into the lead, followed closely by Groupama who both took the more direct northerly route toward Sao Miguel Island which sits in the middle of the Azores High, an area of little wind. The island functioned as a mark and the boats parked up when they approached the rounding.Andres Soriano - Team Sanya
“There’s big gains and losses to be made getting around the island,” said CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson, “and then it’s a pretty fast trip if you keep it all in one piece.”Yann Riou - Groupama Sailing Team
He was referring to the 30 to 40 knot gale force winds and 18-foot seas waiting around the bend once the boats cleared Sao Miguel. How hard a skipper was willing to push crew and boat in such dangerous downwind conditions could well determine victory or total disaster.Hamish Cooper -Camper ETNZ
With the top three boats in sight of one another as they rounded the island and started blasting north toward some truly evil weather, Ken Read sounded the alarm. “It’s becoming do or die for us. We really need to be more apt to taking risks at this stage in the game than we were in the beginning.”
The first boat to break was Groupama when they tried to reef their mainsail in advance of the approaching storm and found that it was jammed at the top, forcing daredevil Kiwi bowman Brad Marsh to climb the bucking mast three times in rough seas in order to fix the problem, dropping them from second to fourth in the course of the two hour repair job.Yann Riou - Groupama Sailing Team
Dancing the razor’s edge between triumph and disaster Telefónica powered into the lead by setting the Schaffhausen Speed Record Challenge with a 564-mile run over 24 hours, and then tumbled when one of their rudders broke, dropping them to third.IAN ROMAN - Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 8 finally came down to one incredibly dangerous maneuver: gybing in the middle of a roaring Atlantic storm in the dark. And timing was going to be everything.
“This gybe is going to be super crucial – it will decide the winner,” said Andrew Cape, the navigator aboard Telefónica.PAUL TODD - Volvo Ocean Race
The dead man’s gybe boiled down to one simple question: How deep was a skipper prepared to take their boat into the gnashing teeth of the fierce storm in order to maximize the wind angle for the final screaming gliderun into Lorient?
“It’s pretty full on,” said PUMA’s navigator Tom Addis. “It’s a bit like playing chicken really.”Armory Ross - PUMA Ocean Racing
At this point, sails were ripping on all of the boats and the crews were too wasted to even eat. They would grind and then sleep for four hours, and then it was back into wave world for more grinding.Hamish Cooper -Camper ETNZ
The lead boat Telefónica was the first boat to turn east and disaster soon struck for the second time. A rogue wave hit them out of nowhere in the crazy seas and they suddenly went into a Chinese gybe and the starboard rudder snapped, leaving them crippled and dashing their hopes of an amazing comeback victory.IAN ROMAN - Volvo Ocean Race
After winning the first three legs of the Volvo Ocean Race and looking virtually unbeatable, Skipper Iker Martinez sounded heartbroken. “I would like to say sorry from the bottom of my heart … I think the only thing that makes me feel better is knowing that I have given one hundred percent to this for the past two years."
PAUL TODD - Volvo Ocean Race
PAUL TODD - Volvo Ocean Race
The fire hose conditions made for survival mode sailing and Groupama surged back into the lead with 200 miles to go, making it a battle for second between CAMPER, who had taken back the 24-hour speed record with a run of 565 miles, followed closely by PUMA.
With a hundred miles to the finish, the sun rose over the Bay of Biscay and live feeds started coming in from the boats. And they were sobering sights indeed, watching giant waves come crashing over the bow, bashing eyeballs and completely inundating the boats with water as the helmsmen struggled to hold onto the wheel and keep the boats on track. The guys on the bow looked and moved like astronauts walking on the moon and it was beyond scary.Armory Ross - PUMA Ocean Racing
And as a fitting end, Groupama sailed to a raucous victory in their home port of Lorient, escorted by hundreds of proud local sailors blasting the French boat’s theme song “Highway To Hell”. And CAMPER edged out PUMA for a well-earned second place finish on a rainy day along the Brittany Coast.PAUL TODD - Volvo Ocean Race
Next Stop: Galway, Ireland
Leg 8 Total
Abu Dhabi 122