Volvo Ocean Race: Reluctant hero Marsh takes seamanship honour

Brad Marsh, proud to be into his home port, Auckland, after a near sinking north of New Zealand, while leading Leg of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race

The title ‘hero’ does not rest easy on the shoulders of Groupama bowman Brad Marsh, but most agree that it is the best way to describe the Kiwi who repaired a sinking yacht, saved a broken rig and scaled a 31-metre mast in a storm front.

Bowmen Martin Krite and Brad Marsh spark flares as Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Franck Cammas from France arrives into the dock, for the final public prize giving, in Galway, Ireland, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)
The 28-year-old's incredible contribution to Groupama sailing team's winning campaign was recognised when he was crowned the overall Abu Dhabi Seamanship Award winner at the prize-giving ceremony in Galway, Ireland.

Marsh said it's not about heroics; it's just a case of 'all in a day's work' for any bowman.

'This race pushes you to the extreme and sometimes you have to push yourself beyond the limits to achieve that,' he said. 'The award is recognition of this but you don't feel like you're a hero at the time.'

Marsh admits that there were plenty of times when his heart was in his throat as his team faced challenges synonymous with the world's toughest professional sporting event.

Groupama certainly had their share of trials including finding that their bow was two thirds full with water as they edged towards their first offshore victory in Leg 4.

Marsh was instrumental in identifying the leaky bow and repairing it quickly enough to grant the French team a victorious arrival in his home country, New Zealand.

Brad Marsh is sent up the mast to try and free a stuck mainsail, onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient, France. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)
The toughest challenge was without doubt during Leg 5 with the French team's mast snapped when they were leading. Marsh climbed up to asses the damage and while cutting the mainsail from the broken structure he cut his own wrist.

'Some situations you have to turn your mind off and you have to follow your heart,' Marsh said. 'In that situation you're so motivated to win the leg you're willing to do anything to win it.

'I did feel really stupid, and I don't have much of a medic background so I didn't really know how dangerous it was, but I knew it was a bad area to cut with the knife.

'It was a very scary moment; we were still dealing with the shock and devastation of breaking the mast. In situations like that you can do some silly things, it was a good lesson learned for me.'

The team fought back to finish the leg under jury rig in third place and claim vital points that helped them build their momentum towards winning the overall Volvo Ocean Race.

But their victory didn't come before another major issue challenged the team. During Leg 8 Groupama's mainsail jammed as the team entered a major storm and they fought to reduce their sail by putting in a reef.

Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Franck Cammas from France, suspend racing from leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil, after the mast broke just above the first spreader around 60 nautical miles south of Punta del Este. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)
The solution was to send Marsh up the 31-metre mast three times to free the trapped sail and allow the team to survive the storm. The daring move meant Groupama were able to recover with time enough to hold their overall race lead.

Despite the many challenges, Marsh said it had been a dream debut for him in the Volvo Ocean Race, having worked as a member of the shore crew for Ericsson in 2008-09.

'It's been an amazing adventure, a fantastic tour, and a great race,' Marsh said. 'To be a part of this group as a sailing team is a huge privilege and something I could never have dreamed of but something I'm glad I've made the most of.'

As well as the award, which is given by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Marsh receives a fantastic prize consisting of two Business Class flights from any Etihad Airways destination in the world and five nights at a five-star Abu Dhabi hotel.