With an electric moon casting long shadows over the gentle wavelets outside Charleston Harbor, Australian sailor Neil Hunter drove his 40-foot Paladin II across the finish line early this morning to punctuate the fifth running of the Around Alone singlehanded race around the world. Hunter took the finishing cannon at 0451 GMT (about an hour after midnight local time) to complete the fourth leg of the marathon yacht race after a journey of 48d, 13h, 51m, 24s. His overall elapsed time for the 27,000-mile voyage was 216d, 21d, 57m, 59s.

With a full day of festivities on slate today to honor all 16 competitors who set out from Charleston last September, Hunter did not arrive a moment too soon. When queried about his impeccable timing, Hunter smiled and said, “This is lovely, sailing across the finish with that big, bright moon and a nice, calm sea. I usually don’t like coming in at night. But this was an easy one.” It might have been the easiest day of what turned out to be a long, frustrating trip from Punta del Este, Uruguay. “Today was good,” he said. “Yesterday was a bit crappy. I had a 4-knot [Gulf Stream] eddy running against me. And the week before was rubbish, no wind. I’ve got to say I’m pleased to be here.” Sporting a Cape Horn gold earring from a lobe pierced with a sailmaker’s needle after arriving in Punta — and doubly resplendent in the “half beard” that has become his trademark (to port his mug was as smooth as a baby’s bottom, to starboard he wore a full growth of whiskers) — Hunter was clearly pleased about completing what had been an arduous adventure. “When I set out, I had no special hopes or expectations,” he said. “What’s happened over the last year is way beyond my wildest imagination.” Regarding his unusual facial growth — he raised his first half beard on Leg 3 for his rounding of Cape Horn — he also offered an opinion. “I’d like to make it a tradition for Cape Horn skippers,” he said. “Every singlehander should grow a Cape Horn beard [like mine].”

Hunter may be on to something, though an official ban on onboard mirrors might also be required to turn his warped dream into reality. After all, he looked like something out of a B-movie. But Hunter’s opinion of the Around Alone race was also a little different. “Now that it’s finished, it brings it down to a level of realism,” he said. “It can be done. It’s real. It happens. There are people like me out there that are dreamers. But if you give them a chance to have a go, they’ll have a go. It’s nice. This race gives people the chance to live out their dreams.” On September 26th, a fleet of dreamers and doers left Charleston with the aim of steering past the line that Hunter negotiated last evening. When all was said and done, nine sailors actually realized that dream. Along the way, for various reasons, such notable skippers as George Sticker, Josh Hall, Mike Golding and Isabelle Autissier were laid by the wayside. That made the accomplishments of those that completed the race — overall winner Giovanni Soldini; fellow Class I skipper Marc Thiercelin; Class II winner J.P. Mouligne; Mike Garside; Brad Van Liew; Viktor Yazykov; Minoru Saito; Neal Petersen; and Hunter — all the more significant.

Stricker, Hall, Golding and Autissier are back in town today (alone with unofficial finishers Robin Davie and Fedor Konioukhov), and they will join their mates in a full day of festivities that begins with a parade through the streets of downtown Charleston this morning, and will end with prize-giving ceremonies and a concert by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra late today. Along with awards for the overall winners, prizes will be presented for categories including outstanding seamanship, communications, and a special Spirit of Around Alone citation for the competitor who best epitomizes the qualities of skill and sportsmanship that characterize this most amazing race. They say everyone who finishes Around Alone is a winner. In this wild fifth r