“I spent a year not looking or touching the trophy, I’m that superstitious. I guess I can do it now” – Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker
When it came to the overall winner of the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race everyone had known the result for several days beforehand, yet the approach to the final finishing line in Gothenburg proved agonising for the first four teams home. And even when they had crossed the line, not everybody on the podium was celebrating. Indeed, the finish to what has been the closest fought Volvo Ocean Race in the event’s history, was also one of the strangest.
After the glassy, windless zone had spread and played havoc with the leading pack’s nerves, along with those of the organisers who decided to shorten course and move the finish further out to sea, eventually the boats streamed in with the final leg done and dusted in daylight and prime spectator time.
Taking their first offshore win of the race, Team Alvimedica’s skipper Charlie Enright was clearly pleased and relieved in equal measures as his team took the first gun of the day. They had deserved the win having led for most of the leg from Lorient and had delivered at the key moment, the finish.
“This was a great finish for our team,” he said. “When we finally got to the finish line it was just enough.”
For Alvimedica to win a leg of the Volvo was not only their first offshore win of the race, but underlined a steady improvement from the start for a young team that has grown to its role.
Second across the line was Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel who in doing so had secured second place overall.
“We started the event with a first and a third and then the wheels came off a little bit,” he said. “But Newport was our break point and we came back into the race.
“Apart from my first race, which was the best because it was such a huge adventure, this has been my next favourite because of the team,” said the man with seven races under his belt. “It was also a great experience because it was so close.”
Then came Iker Martinez’ Mapfre finishing the final leg third and a change in mood. Despite being pleased about getting onto the podium for this final leg, Mapfre’s skipper was clearly upset about the overall standings as he used the finish interview to complain about the penalty points that had been awarded to them for alterations to their boat earlier in the race.
“The feeling’s not good within the team,” he said shortly after crossing the line. “Being given penalty points is not fair. We should have been on the podium and we’re not there.”
Ever stranger was that for his team and Alvimedica, the race still hasn’t finished and won’t do so until the weekend. Both teams are now on equal points which means that Saturday’s in port race will be the decider for fourth overall.
Another skipper who seemed down at the finish at least, was Team Dongfeng’s Charles Caudrelier. The Franco/Chinese team needed to beat Brunel by two places on this leg to take second overall, a place that had already been hard to reconcile after their impressive performances in the early stages of the race that had seen them lead overall. Even after breaking their mast they bounced back as they won the leg to Newport. This was the team that has pulled a rabbit out of the hat most often during the last nine months by finding an extra gear, especially in light conditions.
But the last three legs saw a drop in their performance and on the final leg Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel finished second and in doing so denied Caudrelier’s team the runner’s up slot.
A few hours later when the initial disappointment had ebbed and the scale of their achievement started to sink in, Caudrelier seemed more at ease with their overall position.
“We’ve been on the podium five times since the beginning and we are very happy and very proud,” he said. “When I started I didn’t know if I could do it, but I’m proud that we held a crew together with no human problems.”
But the real news of the day risked being buried in the leg celebrations.
There’s a sense here in Gothenburg that the end of the race has come too soon. There’s a Pro Am race and in port race at the end of the week and yet by mid afternoon on Monday the podium results for the overall positions had been secured.
Abu Dhabi had finished the final leg in fifth and much of the initial dockside razzmatazz had faded as the crew walked up the ramps. Yet despite winning the Volvo Ocean Race there were no major celebrations.
So perhaps it was of little surprise that Walker, who has had the best part of two weeks to come to terms with winning the race that has been an eight year project and that has frequently provided some very tough times, found it hard to express his delight at having taken one of the biggest trophies in sailing. Part of the issue was doubtless his calculated approach to making this one the race that would deliver. Keeping a cool head in a drama good or bad, is something in which he clearly has a talent for. Switching to football style celebrations is not his style.
Long before the start Walker had claimed that winning the event would be about getting onto the podium consistently. Treating the trip around the world as a series of shorter individual races came naturally to the double Olympic medalist who had now completed his third Volvo race and become the first British skipper to win it.
“This time everything went right from the off,” he said. “Olympic medals are special but this is different because so many other people are involved. It’s also special because winning this race wouldn’t mean anything if you weren’t racing against the world’s best.”
“We won this race on the first five legs because we had had the best training and came out of the blocks fast and made fewer navigational mistakes,“ he said. “I believed that, as with the Olympics, we would be defined by our worst races.”
But with seven out of nine podium finishes it was surely his consistency that defined the team’s performance – solid.
LEG 9 RESULTS
1 – Team Alvimedica
2 – Team Brunel
3 – Mapfre
4 – Dongfeng Race Team
5 – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
6 – Team Vestas Wind
7 – Team SCA
1 – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 24pts
2 – Team Brunel – 29pts
3 – Dongfeng Race Team – 33pts
4 – Team Alvimedica – 34pts
5 – Mapfre – 34pts
6 – Team SCA – 51pts
7 – Team Vestas Wind – 60pts
Tie breaker for 4th decided with in port race 27 June