Emma gets beaten into last place as the winds desert her at the finish, and Brad Van Liew tightens his grip on Class 2 of Around Alone

After two days of pounding to windward all the way round the tip of New Zealand, the wind deserted Bruce Schwab, Emma Richards and Brad Van Liew within scent of the finish line last night. Emma, who had been perservering with repairs to her mainsail to try to keep ahead of Bruce Schwab, lost 5th place to him last night as he edged ahead closer inshore. Schwab crossed the line this morning just two-and-a-half hours ahead of her.

Brad Van Liew was the third to arrive in Tauranga this afternoon, some two hours later. Van Liew is the runaway leader of Class 2, with a lead of over 1,000 miles over the next boat. With three wins in three successive legs, he has a grip on his part of the fleet that mirror’s Bernard Stamm’s in Class 1, but in contrast he has brought his boat back in seemingly pristine shape.

“I had an interesting strategy. I wasn’t going to race too hard on this leg. When it wasn’t healthy for me or the boat to push I didn’t and when it was healthy I allowed myself to push as hard as I wanted. I’m really, really happy about the whole thing,” he added. “It’s all going according to plan.”

Referring to his powerful Finot Open 50, Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, he admitted: “I brought a bazooka to a knife fight. Anyone who wants to take this trophy from me is going to have to fight really, really hard.”

Most of the skippers have arrived with a long jobs list. One of the pusher vangs on Bruce Schwab’s unstayed rig bent, so great were the loads from burying the boom and crash gybing. He also destroyed his starboard water ballast tanks when he made the mistake of pumping water in before undoing the air vent valves. When it exploded, he had to bail out nearly a tonne of water. Schwab has had to sail the last section of this leg underpowered on starboard tack.

Emma’s biggest single problem was a torn mainsail. The kevlar fibres of her new 3DL sail ripped all the way from the luff to the leech just above the third reef, and she has been repairing it for the last two weeks. “I was stitching most days, except when we were blast reaching and it was too wet. I thought I could cope with three reefs in and keep sailing at some speed, but on the way to Cape Reinga I needed to take out a reef or lose a place to Bruce and there was so much pressure I had to do more repairs.” Besides the mainsail, she had to sew all but a metre of the foot of the Solent.

This is Emma’s second taste of the Southern Ocean in under a year – she last sailed across it in the Volvo Ocean Race. From previous experience, she thinks the fleet had a relatively easy ride. “Compared with Amer Sports Too, it was a lot kinder. I remember having a lot more squally weather and a lot more icebergs,” she says. “The highest we saw was 50 knots, and that’s downwind.”

Brad Van Liew, who raced in the last Around Alone, agrees: “It was great sailing, good fun, nothing deadly. It was just like you’d script it. Last time was the same and I left [New Zealand] feeling cocky and proceeded to get myself completely pasted for four weeks. In my experience the Pacific leg is absolutely the most difficult.”