Young, fit and fearless, you might think you'd know how a burly Volvo crew might behave on arrival? In Ericsson's case you'd be wrong
There’s nothing quite like an arrival, especially if it’s outside normal hours, but Ericsson’s docking early this morning was marked more for a completely different reason. Babies.
To see four grown, burley and newly bearded men reach out for their little darlings before the boat had even been tied to the dock spoke volumes. To see them lined up on the port sidedeck hugging, kissing and squeezing their grinning children was a sight more likely to be found at a maternity unit than an ocean race venue. Yet the relief on the fathers’ faces was clear to see.
Since blowing out their most important kite on the very first night and damaging the rudder in the process, the crew of Ericsson had effectively sailed the next 6,000 miles or so with a gear missing. A mistake that cost them dearly later on in the race. But their problems didn’t end there. A hydraulics failure in the canting keel mechanism further reduced the boat’s performance after the giant fin and bulb keel had to be locked in place, leaving them to sail the remaining 2,000 miles or so with a flat tyre.
Yet worst of all, was having the time to reflect on the problems and their consequences.
By the time they arrived in Cape Town the body language, at least of those not holding babies said it all, disappointment. Not the kind of disappointment that comes following defeat at the last hurdle in a close match against a strong rival, and not the kind that follows after onboard relationships have been stretched to the point of breakdown. But the kind that comes after days spent contemplating why and where things went so wrong. This, and the stark fact that they could do little to alter their fortunes, at least until they reached port.
“The first night was a baptism of fire. In retrospect we probably could have taken it a little easier and made a better job of it. It set up the scene to make this a very difficult leg for us,” said skipper Neal McDonald, sitting on the side deck and alongside a number of bent stanchions, further evidence of the monumental wipe out that caused them so much grief later.
Navigator Steve Hales agreed. “Frustration would be the best way to describe the leg for us,” he said. “We had a good start out of Vigo and the first night was pretty brutal. We’ve sailed in breezier conditions before, but the heat of battle put a different edge on it and we made a few mistakes.”
Yet even as the team approached the finish in what should have been a predictable, milk run home with no time or tactical pressure to bear from another competitor, the local conditions attempted to rub salt in their wounds.
“We’d sailed into light weather and expected to reach into here in comfortable conditions, but just four or five hours ago we had near gale conditions,” said Hales. “We had reefs in and frantic sail changes, the keel’s not canted over and so the boat isn’t as manoeuvrable, fast or safe as it was. Then we come in here and run out of wind. It’s the culmination of a few little events that take the edge of it.”
Yet there was no taking the edge of Hales’ pleasure at being able to see his daughter’s first two teeth, grown in as much time as it takes to get from Vigo to Cape Town.
“It feels like I’ve been doing this race for the last 15 years and having a child is a new thing for me. Normally my keenness is to get in here and to see the other teams, talk about the race and generally de-brief with your peers, but with the family it makes a huge difference, it’s quite emotional, I’m really surprised.”
Setting family matters to one side, and once the enhanced feeling of disappointment that comes with tiredness ebbs away, the bottom line is that Ericsson is easily in contention with the pack, has doubled it’s sea miles experience and has a boat that needs tweaking rather than rebuilding.
In a few weeks time come the re-start, these are details that will make a huge psychological difference as the teams head out into the Southern Ocean.
For at least four of the Ericsson crew it also marks a few weeks off Sudocream and nappies.