Skipper Sam Davies and her Team SCA crew struck a resounding blow for women’s offshore sailing in the early hours of Thursday morning when they gloriously clinched Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race.
The comfortable victory was the first leg win in offshore sailing’s toughest challenge since Tracy Edwards’ Maiden clinched two stage wins in Class D of the 1989-90 race, won overall by Sir Peter Blake’s famous Steinlager2.
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 who suggested that they were looking outclassed in the current 12th edition by their experienced male rivals.
True, the Swedish entry had yet to win 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 by the scruff of the neck 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 was an intense 647-mile leg with a bit of everything, from light winds at the start to the brutal upwind conditions in the Bay of Biscay. Conditions that saw several crew members hit hard with seasickness: “Sea sickness has taken its prisoners onboard. Luckily we were prepared for the Bay of Biscay. It has been 24 hours of endless bouncing around upwind. For some onboard it has been 24 hours of hell, a repetitive cycle of drinking, trying to eat, being sick, and trying again [but] the fact that we’re winning makes it all the more bearable,” commented Annie Lush from on board late last night.
Team SCA led the fleet for more than half the leg and once in pole position, then dominated. A tactical decision to choose the more offshore course as they headed into the Bay of Biscay and forecasted 30 plus knot upwind conditions paid dividends. The fleet split with four boats taking the inshore route, hugging the coastline. For Team SCA it was a case of being the hunted rather than the hunter and holding their position over the others.
The team held their nerve throughout the final hours of Thursday morning to seal a comfortable victory over the fleet.
It took them three days 13 hours 11 minutes and 11 seconds to grab their share of Race history.
Speaking dockside skipper Sam Davies said., “Thanks to everybody for all your support. It’s a reward for all the hard work we have done. It’s going to be huge for us. We’ve had a mountain to climb to get here”. Sam continued, “ The conditions might have been man breaking but they were not women breaking. It feels great to have held that lead in the conditions we had. It was not easy in the Bay of Biscay. But I am proud of how we sailed. It was pretty violent onboard – we had a tough 36 hours across there. If I chose one leg to win it would be this one coming into Lorient, so I am doubly happy”.
Behind them, another fairy-tale was unfolding as Team Vestas Wind closed to a remarkable second-placed finish in their return to the race after six months out following a collision with an Indian Ocean reef on November 29 during Leg 2.
Nicholson had every reason for the huge smile on his face as he approached the port of Lorient following a near perfect race from Lisbon starting on Sunday.
He had simply hoped that his boat could negotiate the leg without mishap and be competitive – a high podium finish is almost beyond his wildest dreams.
Astern of the leading pair, third-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) were nearing an ever bigger prize than the handsome silver leg trophy claimed by Team
They needed simply to finish ahead of their nearest overall pursuers in the standings, Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA), with a boat in between, to be all but be sure of winning the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
LEG 8 RESULTS
1. Team SCA – 3 days 13h 11min 11s
2. Team Vestas Wind – 3 days 13h 59min 38s
3. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 3 days 14h 05min 17s
4. MAPFRE – 3 days 14h 09min 51s
5. Team Brunel – 3 days 14h 18min 17s
6.Team Alvimedica – 3 days 14h 22min 11s
7. Dongfeng Race Team – 3 days 14h 37min 46s