Three teams, three different responses. Finishing on the podium isn't always cause for celebration
From two miles out, Magnus Olsson’s team was dancing on the decks in celebration of their massive win on leg 5 as Ericsson 3’s headed into Rio. As they approached the dock, the team anthem blaring out, the heads of the crew bobbed from side to side as they strained to see who was on the dock to witness their outstanding achievement.
Once alongside the noise and bustle, as cameras, microphones and babies were passed over the heads of the crowd, was as busy and frenetic as a theatre bar in the interval. Among the crew, smiles as wide as a VO70s transom, high fives and banter that flowed at an electric pace made it clear that this was a special occasion.
Ten hours later their team mates came around the corner and approached the dock. Now dark, but well inside closing time, the shore based floodlights illuminated Ericsson 4 and her crew. They were motionless. No dancing, no arm waving, no craning of necks to see who was waiting for them. Were they simply too cool for school or was something wrong? After all, this was the home team delivering another solid result to push themselves further up the leader board in the overall stakes.
As the boat hit the dock several of the crew stepped straight off as if hurrying to catch a train. Some were heard to be muttering, ‘??off that boat?’
Coming home second hurt. The underdogs had taken a huge gamble at the scoring gate 7,000 miles previously and snatched a lead that the ‘A’ team hadn’t been able to overturn. Like watching the body language at the finish of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, defeat and exhaustion hit the losing team hard.
And while credit was given to Olsson’s crew, it was clear that Grael’s team felt sensitive and bruised when the topic of conversation came around to the performance of the two boats.
‘We’ve probably done around 15,000 miles in that boat so we know that boat well,’ was a common reply, the inference being that they had worked hard to develop a fast boat and handed it to their lesser experienced, rookie team mates, who had now not just beaten them in a fluky luck of the draw, bang the corner move, but had held them off for the equivalent of more than three Atlantic crossings.
Such a defeat hurt. But the local press were having none of it as they surged forwards towards Rio’s local hero, five times Olympic medallist and E4’s skipper, Torben Grael.
As the lights, flash guns and microphones trained on the bearded skipper, a smile broke out across his tired looking face and the mood in the gathered throng took a leap. Yet outside this tight media circle the atmosphere was sombre, deflated and anti-climatic. Crews talked as if the event had been lost, some even spoke of the friction and tension within the team as the days rolled by. The mood was particularly baffling for a team that, after five legs of the race and more than half way around the world has yet to change a single member of its crew. Maybe the stopover in Rio will change that.
And then came Ken Read’s Puma team. Arriving in the small hours of the morning the pontoon may have been crowded, but this time with family, team members and a few hardened, caffeine soaked press. As the boat docked there were smiles but an awkward silence took a hold. No one in the media dared to make the first move.
Skipper Read had spotted his family and, before the boat had been properly tied up, leapt over the guard wires as if jumping the barriers at a railway station as he leapt towards his wife and daughter. The ice had been broken as other team members followed suit.
For Read, the leg had been an ‘experience of a lifetime,’ an ‘incredible journey’, his face beaming with genuine excitement at having turned the corner at the bottom of the world to head north, taking him a step closer to completing his first ever circumnavigation.
This was not the language of hardened pros, but it was the kind of talk that inspires others to have a go.
Three very different boats, three completely different moods and three very good examples why this particular leg finish is such a revealing one.
SHORETALK – This week’s programme comes from the dockside in Rio where you can hear their responses as they stepped ashore.
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