New Zealander Graham Dalton commented earlier in the day on the satellite phone that he was feeling very excited to be arriving into his home port of Tauranga on Hexagon on the podium in Leg 3 of Around Alone.
At 19:38:18 hrs local time (06:38:18 GMT) he sailed his Owen Clarke designed Open 60 hard on the wind and heeled over at 12 knots - playing Christmas Carols - across the finish line under the shadow of Mount Maunganui into 3rd place after Bobst Group-Armor Lux and Solidaires.
The Kiwi yachtsman had his boat built in Tauranga, and so the return of Hexagon and her skipper from racing half way around the world to arriving in third place on the 7,200 nm Australasian leg of Around Alone from Cape Town to New Zealand created a huge excitement amongst the locals. About 60 spectator craft came out to welcome him across the line as he threw in three last tacks to lay the finish in the gusting 20 knot wind.
The last night of the voyage was possibly the worst for Dalton as he reported in to have seen 60 knot headwinds and torrential rain, which caused some concern as Hexagon was knocked down a couple of times near rocky shores. Not only that but rival competitor Italian Simone Bianchetti on Tiscali had been pursuing him doggedly down the coastline, himself reporting to have had "a bad, bad, bad night in hell" like Dalton. Bianchetti blew his Genoa headsail overnight, which caused him to lose 25 miles off Dalton and he is expected to finish at midnight local time tonight (1200hrs GMT).
After docking Hexgon at the Tauranga Bridge Marine pontoons to a crowd of hundreds, Dalton sprayed Champagne Mumm to celebrate his arrival with children following the Global Education Challenge standing at the bow with 'Welcome Home Graham' banners. Dalton said to the awaiting media at the dockside, "I aim to do my best on every leg, but for me, this one is all the more satisfying as I was sailing into the port where Hexagon was built and where we have so much support. A combination of intuition, skill and a little bit of luck has been crucial for me on this leg of the race. My communications systems were down for most of this leg, which meant that I lacked the up to the minute weather data that plays such an important part in competitive yacht racing. Despite this, it has been my most successful leg so far and this is down to excellent preparation by the team in Cape Town."
He then held a Press Conference in the WesternBay Finance Race Village in the presence of hundreds of wellwishers and children from the Tauranga Yacht & Power Boat Club, who had gone out into the harbour in their P-Class dinghies to welcome Graham in.
Out on the water, Bianchetti is followed by 28 year old female skipper Emma Richards on Pindar and American Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet, both vying for 5th place 171 nm from the finish and 120 miles behind Tiscali. Emma is hoping the Maori pendant she is wearing will bring her luck and keep her mainsail together to the finish after it was badly torn last week. Despite spending hours hand-sewing and sticking together the lateral tear along the whole of her mainsail, the damage drastically handicapped the boat from being competitive with the boats ahead during the final week of racing.
Four miles behind them is the clear Class 2 leader, American Brad Van Liew on the fastest Open 50 in the world - Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America. He is a staggering 1,025 nm ahead of the nearest rival Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal. With all four yachts to finish within the next 24hrs, the arrivals from this Southern Ocean Leg into Tauranga, New Zealand are proving to be nothing short of spectacular.