The illbruck Challenge confirmed their pre race billing by winning the opening leg of the Volvo Ocean Race into Cape Town on Wednesday evening. John Kostecki’s team crossed the finish line at 20:19:49 GMT (22.19.49 local time).
The green and white Farr design had taken 31 days, 6 hours and 19 minutes to complete the 7,350 nautical mile leg from Southampton, England and had led the eight boat fleet for nearly half the leg in total.
Sailing into Table Bay under the silhouette of the majestic Table Mountain, lit up only by the flash charges from swarming photographer's RIBs, the crew remained composed until the finishing signal was heard. Only then, a fit looking team jubilantly punched the air, marking the end of a long and testing leg and a fitting result for one of the best-prepared boats in the Volvo Ocean Race fleet.
Right after crossing the finish line, the illbruck campaign's support boat with syndicate head Michael Illbruck on board approached the racing yacht to celebrate a team victory.
Two hours and one minute later, Grant Dalton's entry Amer Sports One, one of the last yachts to be launched, finished in a remarkable second position. They had led the final charge across the south Atlantic for eight days, only relinquishing the lead to illbruck in the dying twelve hours of a five-week leg.
For most, losing such a lead would have been a bitter pill to swallow. Not for Dalton. He had surpassed his wildest expectations by a country mile. "In some ways winning this leg would have been a bad thing for us. We might have started to think we were pretty special and we're not special at all," admitted Dalton after he had tied up in the Victoria Basin. "Really our speed was indicated by the point we got to Trindade, when we were fifth - that was about where we should have been. I didn't think we were any better than that."
But this storybook outcome was not on the cards as the yachts started their final crossing of the south Atlantic from Ilha Trindade. After rounding the last waypoint, Amer Sports One found a fast lane in very variable conditions and catapulted from fifth to first.
"The basis of this strategy is that Roger [Nilson] and I have been burnt many times by boats getting south of us, picking up breeze and disappearing. In fact it happened to us on Merit Cup with EF [Language] in exactly the same place 4 years ago [1997-1998 Whitbread]. So we came round Trindade headed south, no questions, no discussion - not making that mistake again, " explained Dalton later.
Illbruck and Amer Sports One booked front row seats on a low-pressure system to their southeast. This low-pressure created a northerly airflow, which soon accelerated these two yachts into a healthy lead.
Team News Corp tried their luck with a southerly route as well but further to the west and unfortunately soon found themselves behind the frontal system. With the wind further forward than on illbruck and Amer Sports One, Team News Corp were soon slipping back but thankfully held on to third position.
Tyco, one of the early race leaders, suffered the same fate further north and entered the queue in fourth place while ASSA ABLOY, as the northern most yacht, became becalmed and produced one of the smallest 24hour runs of the race.
Roy Heiner's highly fancied team dropped dramatically from fighting for the lead with illbruck to last in the first group.
"In this environment, they say the true test of a team's real metal is in the face of adversity. We had such a test two nights ago," later reflected navigator Mark Rudiger. "After holding a solid second and convinced we were in position to take the lead, we crashed into a wall."
Meanwhile, the second group of yachts, Team SEB, djuice and Amer Sports Too approached Trindade with Lisa McDonald's all-female crew briefly out sailing the other two.
Team SEB soon took over the reigns at the front and started a match race with djuice across the south Atlantic that looks set to continue over the next week. On these three yachts, the distinct lack of food has become a serious issue again as progress continues to be very slow.
"Every single person will have lost quite a lot of weight by the time we get to Cape Town. We will obviously focus hard on drinking as much as possible on the way. Obviously the goal is to get in shape for leg two," commented djuice skipper Knut Frostad.
Back at the front, runaway leaders illbruck and Amer Sports One continued to sail into better pressure over the final 1000 miles, enabling them to sail at blistering speeds towards the finish.
In this period, illbruck set the leg mileage record of 369 miles (15.37 knot average) between 22.00hrs GMT on October 19th and October 20th. For the first time, the ETA (estimated time of arrival) into Cape Town became a reliable figure for the leaders.
On board Team News Corp, thirteenth crewmember Bart Simpson was now actively involved in the sailing. "I'm well into my first leg at sea," wrote Simpson. "No signs of pirates or mermaids yet. I've helped Jez [Fanstone] steer, Alby [Pratt] trim, Justin [Slattery] on the bow and pulled down the helmsman's pants. My sleeping bag got wet last night, I swear it's only sea water. Another week at sea, then we'll arrive in Cape Town. I think that's Batman's summer hideout."
As the leaders sailed further south, the temperatures fell rapidly while the breezes started to build and the crews got their first taste of the Southern Ocean sailing they will encounter on leg two.
"It's freezing cold on deck, spray everywhere and the boat's crashing off every second wave. The crew are sleeping on the wet sails below deck because you can't stay in your bunk," wrote Team News Corp's Ross Field. In the middle of the week, disaster struck Amer Sports One, as they destroyed their Code 3 reaching spinnaker in a wild wipe out.
"The last 24 hours has been a reality check for this team on what is going to happen to us in the Southern Ocean unless we go back to the basics on how to sail a boat like this in a lot of breeze under spinnaker. It has left us with two totally destroyed spinnakers, one of which is mainly somewhere 150 miles behind us, a broken internal halyard and a crew which is now somewhat more receptive to the wise old men onboard telling them what to do," explained Grant Dalton.
With a full sail warbrobe to match the prevailing conditions, the illbruck team were sailing like a team possessed over the final few days, turning Amer Sports One's forty-mile lead into a sixteen mile deficit by the close of play. "We kept fighting and never gave up. The whole team is great, it's so positive," said skipper John Kostecki afterwards.
Team News Corp finally claimed third place this morning after a violent final night and early morning. Jez Fanstone's crew were given a hiding by gale force southeasterly winds over the last day. To save damaging the hull and rig in the closing miles, they continually reduced sail area slowing down from eleven to seven and at times even five knots.
"The last 48 hours have been pretty miserable. We've been cold, tired, wet and hungry, battling big seas and with 50 knots on the nose," explained a relieved Fanstone after tying up in the Victoria & Alfred dock.
While Fanstone's Farr designed Volvo Ocean 60 withstood the pounding seas over the final night, trimmer Joe Spooner, on loan to the syndicate from America's Cup holders Team New Zealand, was caught off guard by a particularly savage wave that slammed over the yacht.
Spooner was thrown across the open cockpit, leaving him with a head wound. On board medic Alastair 'Alby' Pratt administered two stitches while a doctor on the dockside checked Alby's handy work and passed Spooner as okay.
The expected arrival time for Kevin Shoebridge's fourth placed Tyco has fallen back as they have encountered light winds on their final approach to Cape Town and are not due to cross the line in Table Bay until at least 08.10hrs GMT (10.10hrs local time) tomorrow (Saturday) morning.
1, Illbruck: 31d 06h 19m 49s
2, Amer Sports One: 31d 08h 20m 56s
3, Team News Corp: 32d 15h 57m 17s
Volvo Ocean Race Position Report, Day 34, 16.00hrs GMT
PS Yacht Latitude Longitude DTF CMG SMG TFHR DTL ROC ETA PO
1 ILBK 33 54.06S 018 25.97E 0 0 0 0 0 0 24 OCT 01 20:19 8
2 AONE 33 54.06S 018 25.97E 0 0 0 0 0 0 24 OCT 01 22:20 7
3 NEWS 33 54.06S 018 25.97E 0 0 0 0 0 0 26 OCT 01 05:57 6
4 TYCO 34 35.56S 016 19.00E 114 099 06.3 199 0 00.0 27 OCT 01 08:11 5
5 AART 33 59.16S 012 36.84E 291 058 06.8 243 177 00.0 28 OCT 01 09:27 4
6 TSEB 29 02.68S 001 37.16E 908 101 09.8 225 794 04.0 30 OCT 01 15:33 3
7 DJCE 29 52.40S 000 50.80E 928 102 09.5 219 814 03.8 30 OCT 01 17:33 2
8 ATOO 30 30.00S 001 30.68W 1033 085 09.4 239 919 03.0 31 OCT 01 04:35 1
PS - Position; DTF - Distance to Finish; CMG - Course made good; SMG - Speed made good; TFHR - 24 hours run; DTL - Distance to leader; ROC - Rate of Closure; ETA - Estimated time of arrival; PO - Points
ILBK illbruck Challenge
AONE Amer Sports One
ATOO Amer Sports Two
AART ASSA ABLOY Racing Team
NEWS News Corporation
TYCO Team Tyco
TSEB Team SEB
DJCE djuice dragons