LORIENT, France, June 11 – Team SCA won the 647nm Leg 8 to France last night. The comfortable victory was the first leg win for a female crew in offshore sailing’s toughest challenge since Tracy Edwards’ Maiden clinched two stage wins in Class D of the 1989-90 race.
© Marc Bow/Volvo Ocean Race
At least as satisfying for the first all-women’s crew to enter the race in 12 years will be the opportunity to silence critics. True, the Swedish entry has yet to claim a podium place until now, but the crew has clearly improved leg after leg and many observers felt that a breakthrough performance was just around the corner.
The win was certainly no fluke in an upwind leg that tested seamanship to the full with an often heinous sea state and strong winds virtually throughout.
They grabbed the 647-nautical mile leg from Lisbon on Monday and strengthened that grip on Tuesday after taking an offshore course while most of their rivals hugged the Spanish and French coast approaching the Bay of Biscay. It took them three days 13 hours 11 minutes and 11 seconds to grab their share of Race history.
"Thanks to everybody for all your support. It's not really sunk in yet," said a jubilant Davies. "It probably won't hit us until we hit the dock and we see there aren't any other boats there. It's a reward for all the hard work we have done. It's a great confidence booster. It's going to be huge for us. We've had a mountain to climb to get here."
Ian Walker (GBR) and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew all but clinched the 12th edition of offshore sailing’s toughest challenge in the early hours of Thursday, when a third place in Leg 8 left them with an eight-point lead in the Volvo Ocean Race with one stage to go.
Only a very unlikely combination of a last-place finish in Leg 9 to Gothenburg from Lorient, France, plus at least two penalty points can deprive the team of a remarkable achievement.
For Walker, 45, it is the realisation of a career ambition to become the first British skipper to win the overall trophy in the 41-year-old event, although John Chittenden won the Cruising Division of the 1989-90 edition won by Sir Peter Blake’s Steinlager2.
And it is no less of an extraordinary achievement for the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing project, which only entered the race for the first time in 2011-12 and finished a disappointing fifth.
To underline how close this 2014-15 race has been, all seven boats finished within one hour and 26 minutes of each other after three-and-a-half days of sailing from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient.
Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) finished second in their return to the race after six months out following a collision with an Indian Ocean reef on November 29 during Leg 2.
The boats will have a short maintenance period before Sunday’s SCA In-Port Race Lorient (June 14) before the fleet set sail for Gothenburg, via a much-awaited pit-stop in The Hague, on Tuesday, June 16.
The Race is anything but over, of course. No less than four boats can still finish runner-up behind Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with Team Brunel (27 points), Dongfeng Race Team (29), MAPFRE (31) and Team Alvimedica (33) all within six points of each other.
And the in-port race series is still very much alive with two races to sail in Lorient and Gothenburg.