By Chipp Reid
Brazilian skipper Torben Grael got a hero’s welcome when he returned home to Rio de Janeiro March 27 after he and the International crew completed Leg Five of the Volvo Ocean Race, but for Grael, the homecoming still wasn’t perfect.
Grael, captain of Ericsson 4, arrived 12 hours after his Nordic counterparts on Ericsson 3 won the leg. Although Ericsson 4 arrived in second place, solidifying Grael’s hold on the overall lead in the race, the Brazilian wasn’t completely happy.
“This race is a long way from over,” the Brazilian said. “It feels fantastic to be here, but the race is not over until it's over.”
Grael and his crew of sailors from Australia, Brazil, England, New Zealand and the United States arrived in Rio just before 11 p.m. local time. When they pulled up to the dock, friends and family greeted them, providing them a warm welcome after 41 days at sea.
"It's great to be home," Grael said. "We are getting closer (to winning this race), but there is a long way to go. We won't be underestimating anyone."
That includes Swedish skipper Magnus Olsson and the Nordic crew on Ericsson 3, who shocked everyone by winning Leg Five.
“I think they deserve it,” Grael said. "They made a huge effort to finish the leg in China and then start this leg late. And then to do a 40-day leg and arrive here first, I think they did a very good move after the gate in New Zealand and they deserve the result.”
Grael and his crew led the leg for nearly 6,000 miles. Just after passing Fiji, Grael and the rest of the fleet played it safe and turned south. Olsson turned north and by March 9, held the lead. Though there were times when it got close — Grael and his crew closed to within six miles when Ericsson 3 got caught in light wind shortly after rounding Cape Horn — Ericsson 4 simply couldn’t catch Ericsson 3.
“It was always a case of first in-first out,” E4 navigator Jules Salter said. "But even once we got out (of the no wind area) we were kind of stuck in the middle with PUMA going well behind us and Ericsson 3 extending ahead.”
Still, for Grael arriving in Rio in second place was almost as good as winning the leg.
"To have a reception like we've had here in Rio is fantastic,” Grael said. “It's so nice, you come from 40 days at sea by yourself and then you arrive here. First there was only one boat, then another one and then all of sudden, a lot of friends, shouting and celebrating. It's fantastic.”
The second place finish pushed Grael’s team to 63.5 points with four legs left in the 37,000-nautical mile race. The International team has a 10.5-point lead over second place PUMA Ocean Racing. Spanish boat Telefonica Blue is in third with 50.5 points while Ericsson 3 is in fourth with 43 points.
Leg Six begins April 11 and runs from Rio to Boston.