ABN AMRO One wins leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race. 21/1/06

The reactions of the skipper as his boat’s yellow bow crossed the finish line of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race at 2008 local (0908 GMT) were both instinctive and a genuine portrayal of his true emotions.

As the finish gun fired, Mike Sanderson’s fists punched the air in celebration.

The crew, clearly relieved to have racked up another well-earned victory, congratulated each other with as firm a handshake as they could muster after 18 days of gruelling, nerve wracking sailing.

As the mutual acknowledgements were completed, Sanderson’s head lolled forward onto the wheel, his forehead resting on the foam covered carbon fibre, his hands cradling the back of his head. A gentle, almost disbelieving shake from side to side said it all – relief.

In a leg that has had a good share of the drama in the light airs towards the finish, as well as the boat breaking conditions of the Southern Ocean, the crew of ABN AMRO One know they have a boat that sticks in the light. They also know how much slipperier their team mates, the ‘kids’ aboard ABN AMRO Two are when compared to them, having watched their lead slashed from 50 miles to 25 in the last 24 hours.

Yet Sanderson and his crew appeared to keep their cool on the final slog into Port Phillip, a stretch of the course that could so easily have been their undoing. Having lost 350 miles earlier in the race, an advantage of 50 must have felt like a few boat lengths.

Hugging the coastline and in the absence of any forecasted gradient breeze, ABN One made the best of the sea breezes that developed along the shoreline. The tactic worked and the final result puts Sanderson’s crew even further ahead in the overall rankings. Even so, both ABN boats are as capable of coming last, as they are coming first. This time the result fell the right way leaving both skippers pleased no doubt, to have tucked away a few more points for any quieter legs later on.

But it wasn’t just the sailors who felt the relief. With the dramas of the Southern Ocean and beyond grabbing the headlines the race organisation must have felt it was time something went their way in the PR department. With the first boat arriving on the brand new Melbourne dockside at prime time on a Saturday night, this is the first time anyone has seen the impressive new complex anywhere near busy. But tonight, with several thousand spectators bustling up and down the quay, the show has at last come to town.


So what were Sanderson’s immediate comments as the boat was tied to the dock?

What did he want most right now?

“I’ve already got what I wanted,” he said. “We got here first and the white boat will get here second. The guys are healthy and the boat’s healthy, I got what I wanted.”

Had the boat taken a battering on this leg?

“We’re probably in better shape here than we were when we arrived in Cape Town. The boat’s in great shape, we could go again now if we stocked up. I thought from Eclipse to here was going to be a tactical race, but in hindsight we had as many tough times with potential gear breakages from there to here.”

Had he pushed the boat to the limit?

“No, I would hate to have to admit that we’d done that, we need to get this boat around the world.”

Four hours and 12 minutes after ABN One crossed the line, the white boat finished and in doing so notched up another second place for the scoreline to place them just five points behind the leaders. (Current totals are 29 & 24 points respectively.)

“We’re really happy with second and really happy to have extended on Movistar,” said Navigator Simon Fisher (Sci-Fi).

“The thing that really impressed me about our fast sailing was how under control we felt, even with the big gear up but with only three people on deck, a helmsman, a main trimmer and a grinder. It was very, very wet though, so it’s good to get the rest of the people below decks and keep them dry.”

With so much talk of boats and gear breaking because crews weren’t throttling back in time, had they felt they’d pulled back more than before during this leg?

“We always try and sail pretty sensibly, especially when we’re sailing with the big gear and tend to change down earlier. We saw this when we were up against the Pirates in some windy downwind sailing when they pulled away from us when we changed down earlier.

“I think one of the reasons we appear to sail quickly is that we are usually well under control. We also have twice as many rudders as the Farr boats!”

Had they learned much more about the boat and the way to sail it on this leg?

“For sure we did, it’s still a very steep learning curve and we had such a wide range of conditions out there this time. There’s no question though that these boats are pretty brute-ish. We still get everybody up for every sail change, with the exception of putting the staysail up and down.”

But perhaps the most telling comments about a crew that few originally rated as being, front of the fleet material, said more about skipper ex-Vendee skipper Sebastien Josse’s influence in the campaign.

“We’re lucky that we have two rudders, we’re slightly beamier and therefore more stable which of course helps, but we’ve taken large chunks of the Open 60 ideology rather than the more aggressive Volvo 60 route and that stops us from getting too close to the edge.”

It would also appear to help secure a world record pace without too much stress. With 564 miles under their belt, is 600 really possible?

“Yes I think it is. There were times when we were averaging 24.5 knots and that’s just shy of a 600 mile pace, but it would be a pretty wild ride. But the longer wave patterns of the next leg could well be the kind of conditions that see the record being broken.”