Team Alvimedica’s skipper Charlie Enright won the final offshore battle of the Volvo Ocean Race today in Sweden, but the overall trophy belonged firmly with his rival from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Ian Walker.
The Turkish/American boat led the tightly packed fleet home to crowded docks in the final stopover in Gothenburg, Sweden, to bring to a close 38,739 nautical miles and nine months of some of the closest racing ever witnessed in the 41-year-old offshore marathon.
The Team Alvimedica victory underlined, once more, the incredibly close nature of competition in the first ever event raced with strictly one-design Volvo Ocean 65 boats.
Only one team, Team Vestas Wind, has failed to win a leg – and they missed five because of a boat rebuild.
Behind Charlie, in fifth, Ian's boat, Azzam, slipped almost quietly into port, but the mile-wide smiles on all the crews' faces told their own story.
Leg 9 was the last and in many ways 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.
Lighter breezes and a front last night compressed the fleet following their departure from the Dutch port on Saturday.
The Chinese boat Dongfeng was forced to relinquish their hoped-for second place in the leg to Team Brunel, whose finish secured the runners-up spot in the overall standings.
Despite not being able to hold off Spanish challengers, MAPFRE, for third position, Charles Caudrelier’s crew still took the final place on the podium in third place overall - an incredible result with four Chinese rookie sailors in their ranks.
Fourth place overall, though, 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, sixth-placed Team Vestas Wind had their own cause for celebration in finishing a race that they looked irrevocably out of, having collided with an Indian Ocean reef in Leg 2 last November.
Their sponsors, crew and shore team never gave up hope of returning, however, and the second-placed finish of the blue Danish boat in Leg 8 to Lorient from Lisbon, will remain one of the 12th edition’s most cherished memories.
Finally, the all-women’s crew of Team SCA 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.
With the huge following that Sam Davies's team attracted and their legacy of leg-by-leg improvements, we surely will not have to wait another 12 years for another female crew to take their place in a Volvo Ocean Race fleet.
1) Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 24 pts
2) Team Brunel (Netherlands) 29
3) Dongfeng Race Team (China) 33
4=) Team Alvimedica (Turkey/USA) 34 and MAPFRE (Spain) 34
6) Team SCA (Sweden) 51
7) Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 60