The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 came to a conclusion in Gothenberg today, with Team Alvimedica taking the final leg win, and overall victory going to Abu Dhabi.
When Ian Walker lead his Abu Dhabi team across the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race) finish line, he became the first British skipper to win the overall event in its long and varied history.
"I said at the start of the race that I was confident, but there are 100 ways to lose this race but only one way to win it. And it just all came together for us perfectly," a jubilant Walker told reporters on dockside. He might have won two Olympic medals, but winning the Volvo Ocean Race topped even those achievements: “This is special because we did it as a team,” he said.
It might have been a long journey for the fleet since the race start in Alicante, Spain back in October 2014, but for Ian Walker and many of his core team, his path to lifting the trophy started some eight years ago and spanned three campaigns.
When Ian Walker skippered his first entry in 2008-9, he was a true rookie skipper. Two Olympic medals didn't seem much when faced with the years of ocean racing his adversaries had under their belts. However his Green Dragon campaign certainly made an impact, finishing fifth out of the eight entries and capturing the imagination of a nation in Ireland
In 2011-12 Ian Walker was back, this time skippering Abu Dhabi's first entry in the Volvo Ocean Race. However, the race started badly when the boat was dismasted during the first leg and the team later suffered hull damage, which forced it to retire from the race from Auckland to Itajai, in Brazil. The team eventually limped home fifth.
In the 2014-15 edition of the race he returned, determined to make up for the disappointments of 2012, and showed early promise taking the first leg to Cape Town. They had to wait until the fifth leg to top the podium again, but posted two seconds and a third. It was this consistency that was key to the team's eventual overall victory in one of the closest fought Volvo Ocean Races for many years.
At a post-race press conference, Ian Walker said that the reaction back in Abu Dhabi had been overwhelming, with huge media and public interest. He admitted he was still waiting for the scale of his achievement to sink in.
“It’s only when I get to share this with friends and family that I’ll really process it,” he said.
Leg 9 was the last and, in many ways, the most exciting of all the stages since the fleet set out on October 11 from Alicante, Spain, full of hopes and expectations.
Team Alvimedica led the 1,000nm stage, almost from the start last Tuesday in Lorient, France, but their lead was never totally secure, despite entering the halfway stage in The Hague last Friday with a 91-minute lead over Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA).
Lighter breezes and a front last night compressed the fleet following their departure from the Dutch port on Saturday. Just under two hours 40 minutes separated the entire fleet and Alvimedica skipper Charlie Enright was still savouring his triumph after all had safely crossed the line, following a few scares, when the wind dropped briefly to nothing.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” he recalled. “But we ended up with a great result for our team and a testament to how far we have come. To end like this is really amazing.”
Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED), finished second in the leg to secure the runner-up spot in the overall standings. Spanish challengers, Mapfre (Iker Martinez/ESP), were third in the leg, and the Chinese boat, Dongfeng, fourth, enough to claim the final podium place for third overall.
Fourth place overall will have to be decided in the final act of the 2014-15 edition, Saturday's Inmarsat In-Port Race Gothenburg, when Team Alvimedica and Mapfre, tied on 34 points, will duel to break the deadlock.
Following in behind the champions, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who finished the leg fifth, sixth-placed Team Vestas Wind had their own cause for celebration in finishing a race that they had looked irrevocably out of, having grounded on a reef in the Indian Ocean on Leg 2 last November.
Finally, the all-women’s crew of Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) completed the fleet’s arrivals in Gothenburg. As ever, they were competitive and right on the heels of their male rivals. They had, however, already made their point in what has been the sole preserve of male sailing since 2001-02. Their victory in Lorient in the leg from Lisbon proved that women can be – and are – competitive in the world's toughest offshore sailing event.
See some of the stunning photos from the race in our feature 10 of the best Volvo Ocean Race images… so far.
Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 results
1) Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 24 points.
2) Team Brunel (Netherlands) 29 points.
3) Dongfeng Race Team (China) 33 points.
4=) Team Alvimedica (Turkey/USA) 34 points and Mapfre (Spain) 34 points.
6) Team SCA (Sweden) 51 points.
7) Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 60 points.