Amazing journey ends in glory


MAKING WAVES:After eight months and 39,000 miles an absolutely fantastic crowd gathered together in celebration.

FINALLY, MY dream has come true and though it’s been years since my teenage ambition began, this week the day finally arrived when Groupama crossed the finishing line of the final leg and we won the Volvo Ocean Race.

It really hasn’t sunk in, it’s that unbelievable. Three years of work, eight months of racing and now, not just a stop-over of the race here in Galway but the actual finish of the Volvo Ocean Race – it’s just unbelievable.

Better still, it was only hours after we sailed past Derrynane on our track northwards to Galway, the place where it all began for me.

A few local RIBs and the Derrynane Inshore Rescue boat came out to see us as we went past. It was my first contact with home as I’ve been away for so long now. Although it was cloudy, the rest of the lads on the boat wouldn’t have known the coast so well and were given a running commentary as we sailed past and one of our Kiwis was even feeling a bit homesick.

And then into Galway!

What an absolutely fantastic gathering of people, 10,000 or 20,000 people in the middle of the night all gathered together in celebration; we know how to do things well in the west of Ireland!

Galway was made for the Volvo Ocean Race and vice versa – they’re ideal for each other.

Comparison to 2009 are fair: this is a separate event and completely different. We have four days of activities and the final in-port race on Saturday though the way the points stand now, the overall results won’t change much if at all so we’re going to go out there and enjoy ourselves.

We finished nicely with a second place ensuring our record of podium finishes for the entire race remains unbroken. It’s been an amazing journey.

After we finished up with Green Dragon in the last race, I was signed up to sail with the Groupama sailing team under our skipper Franck Cammas.

Although not yet 40, he’s already a sailing superstar in France though better known for racing high-speed multi-hulls and setting world distance speed sailing records.

France has not had an entry in the Volvo Ocean race or Whitbread prior to that since 1994 and public interest in oceanic sailing has been all about the single-handed Vendeé Globe race or the Jules Verne Challenge for the fastest non-stop time around the planet.

Nor had Franck himself had previous experience of the Volvo race that pits fully-crewed teams against one another in a series of all-out legs circumnavigating the world.

But it was still his leadership and experience that quickly made up any lost ground. Firstly, he made certain that our team was well-prepared, starting early as soon as the last race ended.

And once this race started, he soon got to grips with the fleet racing tactics unique to this event.

Yet the first leg of the race was probably our lowest point, at least for me as we headed southwards away from the Mediterranean looking for the best place to cross the equator. As the fleet leaders took a more westerly route, they found better conditions and we soon fell behind. Only for Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team dismasting on the first night followed by Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya suffering hull damage hours later, and then much later on Ken Read’s Puma Ocean racing powered by Berg also dismasting, we might have fared much worse than the third place we picked up for that opening stage.

Put it down to opening night jitters but we were able to put this behind us and concentrate on reeling in Chris Nicholson’s Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand and Iker Martinez’ Telefonica in the coming legs.

That was all eight months and 39,000 miles ago.

What has made the race hard has been the duration. Hard legs followed by short stop-overs that barely allow time for two or three days off before returning to racing, first the pro-am, then the in-port and immediately followed by the next leg start and three weeks at sea.

But success in the second half of the race keeps you pushing on, pushing on, never quitting until here we are and we’ve won!

There’s been a tradition of the first boat into Cape Town ends up winning the race. Well we’ve broken that taboo which has to be a good thing.

Incredibly, one stop-over before the finish we still didn’t know who was going to win the race – it’s been that close. Anyone of four boats could have won the race.

In the next edition, it’s going to be a one-design event using a new design of matching 65-footers that will place even more emphasis on the skill of the sailors rather than the technology edge that the different boat designs of this race add.

There’s also less likelihood of the widespread damage we saw as the new boats won’t be like the fleet of prototypes that we’ve been sailing. It certainly feels like we stole a second place coming into Galway as we had been lying fourth for so long. But Camper did a great job and sailed well. So too did Puma and Telefonica but that’s sport and a bit of luck can have brutal consequences.

Having led the race for the first half, Telefonica are now off the podium completely but that’s the nature of sport and of this event, the result reflects the eight months of racing. Luck can change and swing around and around so we have all had a share of misfortune but ultimately, if you prepare the boat well and sail well then the best boat wins.

We’ve had a very good boat and a good team but here we are, I’ve no qualms about picking up the winners’ trophy because we deserve it.

It was a lot of fun to start the final leg from Lorient and say goodbye to the family but also say “see you tomorrow” after this short leg instead of the marathons we’re more used to.

Afterwards, the most important thing for me is to go back to Kerry with Suzy-Ann, Oisín and Neamh and spend time together. It’s been a long race for them also as they’ve followed this circus around the world to far-flung places like Abu Dhabi, China and New Zealand.

I’m looking forward to putting my feet up for a while and then I’ll be racing the multi one-design, on another round-the-world race though that’ll be another story and right now, getting my feet stuck into the sand in Derrynane Harbour is as close to the ocean as I want to be.

If I could, dedicate my share of this win, it would be to my father Roger who introduced me to sailing and to the late Ossie Wilson who introduced me to the sea and windsurfing in Derrynane many years ago.

Sailing has been my life, since I was a kid growing up at home.

This result is a kid’s dream and sometimes dreams do come true.

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