By the end of the fourth stage, at the village of San Jer�nimo, only 59 seconds separated the two leaders—New Zealand's other jet, skippered by Nev Sutherland, and Canadian Jeff Thurston in still another 17-footer. A Canadian jet driven by Soren Hansen was third, but with only 56 seconds over Hamilton, who had driven like a demon to recover the time lost at the start.
San Jer�nimo was a place of dusty lanes and ancient customs, a place without electricity where women ground corn between stones even as the river crushed boats between boulders. Only 40 of the original 50 craft started the following morning on the longest run of the marathon, 80 miles of deep water as the Balsas became a lake behind a dam. The Mexicans call this lake Infiernillo (Little Hell), and so it proved to be. The sun was hellish hot, and a strong wind churned the surface so fiercely that the small, fast craft were pummeled almost to pieces as they thumped along.
Another lake on the sixth day was more placid than Infiernillo and when the field reached Petacalco, only a mile or two from where the river meets the sea, Nev Sutherland was in the lead with four minutes to spare over Jeff Thurston. The other Canadian jet, which had held third place the previous three days, fell back to fourth, overhauled by Jon Hamilton.
The competitors now had to go only from the mouth of the Balsas to Zihuatanejo, a 50-mile run down the coast requiring good navigation more than stout nerve. Sutherland navigated best, closely followed by Thurston and Hamilton at the finish in Zihuatanejo's beautiful Pacific Coast bay. After hell—paradise. Once upon a time a fellow New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary, had traveled a long way up to conquer a majestic mountain. Sutherland had gone a long way down—4,000 feet down from Mexcala—to master a mighty river. He tipped a champagne bottle to his lips, and then he laughed and laughed.