It is extraordinary when you think about it. After more than 20 days of racing across 9667km of ocean, the difference between third and fourth came down to one minute, 32 seconds, or about 100m.

For Camper, it was gut-wrenching. They desperately wanted to arrive in Auckland first after a difficult Volvo Ocean Race so far but had to wait for nearly an hour on the Waitemata Harbour before coming to shore as the crew of Telefonica enjoyed the third step on the podium.

When they did finally dock at the Viaduct Harbour, the rueful shakes of the head told the story.

"It was a really close race but we just ran out of runway at the end,'' exhausted Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said.


"We knew with the lead they had on us it would take something amazing to crawl back and we almost did. It was one of those ones where everyone busted themselves. If you leave nothing to spare, then you don't have any regrets and that was how that was.''

They had been chasing the frontrunners since damaging a sail when leading early in the leg from Sanya, China, but struggled to match the speed of their rivals in tight reaching conditions.

Groupama dominated the leg, finishing late on Saturday evening, but Puma, Telefonica and Camper spent several days within close vicinity. Camper had Telefonica in their sights for most of the last 24 hours and might have caught them had the finish line been under the Auckland Harbour Bridge and not opposite the Viaduct.

"It was quite tiring, quite stressful... just like the rest of the race,'' Telefonica bowman Zane Gills said.

"We weren't confident at all. They were definitely coming down with plenty of pressure.''

It was an exciting finish but there's no escaping the fact Camper have a speed issue. They have now dropped to third on the overall table with 98 points. Telefonica, who won the first three legs, lead with 121 ahead of Groupama on 103 points.

Camper's fortunes could change on the next leg to Itaja, Brazil. It is the longest leg of the race - 12,418km - and the Team New Zealand boat has been set up for the sort of down wind racing they will encounter in the Southern Ocean.

"Finally the race is getting back to where we will do some down wind sailing in this next leg,'' Nicholson said.

"In tight reaching, we're not as fast. We need to find some race track where it's not like that. We did 4000 miles of tight reaching [on the last leg]. That's what is going to happen every time. We need some legs where it's not and this next one should be.

"We know we have our work cut out for us [to win overall]. If we had that speed advantage over 4000 miles of reaching, that result would be different. No doubt. But we are where we are. There's no excuse for us. That's how it is. We just have to get on as best we can.''

They don't have much time to recover. The crew had the prospect of "half a day'' off before getting the boat and themselves ready for Saturday's in-port racing and Sunday's departure from Auckland. The shore crew will work around the clock in shifts to get everything ready for the toughest leg of the race but there's little that can be done to the boat.

Helsman and trimmer Tony Rae has damaged ribs after being knocked off his feet by a wave and bowman Daryl Wisland dislocated a finger today among a number of others aboard Camper with bumps and bruises. But the biggest bruising has been to their mental wellbeing and they have little time to reflect and recover.

"I feel like we should just stay in our wet-weather gear and just keep going,'' he said. "It would be easier than going to a nice hotel and great food.''