Annalise Murphy: An incredible finish to 40,000 miles of racing
The non-stop-every-waking-hour concentration is both daunting and addictive
Most of the time we seemed to be making good speed or better with ‘firehose’ conditions on deck.
And so it ends, a bittersweet finale to our round the world epic that is the Volvo Ocean Race.
Even though I’ve wanted this to be over, I’m sad that it’s over; it’s a strange feeling and you forget all about the lack of sleep.
We’ve now arrived in The Hague with only an In-Port Race remaining to sail on Saturday and the final prize-giving.
The overall result is decided and what an incredible finish it was after a gruelling but thrilling final stage from Gothenburg to The Netherlands.
It was like a continuous In-Port Race but offshore - after leaving Sweden it was upwind to Norway then downwind to Denmark, upwind again to Norway down the other side of Denmark, past Germany and into the finish along the Dutch coast and weaving through all the windfarms and commercial shipping exclusion zones.
Three teams, tied for first place and the best placed of them on this 970 nautical-mile leg would win overall.
That’s after more than 40,000 nautical-miles of racing and almost nine months since the start in Alicante.
I’m thrilled for Charles Caudrelier and his team on Dongfeng, who lifted the famous trophy on Sunday evening. To be fair, they’ve been the most consistent team over the entire race and meticulous in their preparation.
They only waited until the final stage for their first leg win!
None of us got any sleep over the three days of the stage and even Paolo Mirpuri, one of our sponsors who joined us for the final leg, stood all of his watches but one as we pushed as hard as we could.
Despite the exhaustion, it was an exciting leg unlike the previous stage from Cardiff to Gothenburg.
That tenth stage started well as we headed back across the Irish Sea and along the south coast of Ireland. We passed Baltimore and my friends Peter O’Leary and Derval O’Rourke were watching from the Beacon; Derval sent me a video afterwards of their little girl Daphne shouting “Go faster Annalise!”
And then loads of boats arrived to escort the fleet past West Cork, including Dave Harte from Schull who is like a guru to just about every youth sailor in Ireland.
As we passed Cape Clear and the Fastnet then the Mizen and the Skelligs, everyone on board was left breathless in admiration for Ireland. I was like ‘I live here, it’s pretty cool’ but inside my head I was so chuffed that we were seeing this incredible landscape in daylight and fine weather.
And then we tacked deep offshore and away from the landscape. Within 24 hours, we were into the North Sea and the worst sea state of the race and for the second time only I was seasick - just one four-hour watch but the worst four hours of the whole race.
At least I had a bucket this time and managed not to vomit over anyone else.
We were all thrilled to reach shore once again as the race leaderboard contracted around three possible outcomes. This edition of the race is generally agreed to be the closest ever finish and Dongfeng have really earned their win.
But I’m also gutted for Xabi Fernandez and the Mapfre crew. In various guises for more than a decade, this Spanish team has been trying to win the race and for the early part of this event they looked likely to finally get over the line.
And I’d also have been pleased to see Bouwe Bekking and Team Brunel win overall as it’s his eighth attempt. This Dutch crew have really come together over the last few legs and delivered the performance needed for such a close finish.
Bianca says she’d love to do another Volvo and if you’d asked me two weeks ago I’d have said ‘no way’ but now, reflecting on everything that’s happened I’m not so sure
For our own part on Turn the Tide On Plastic, our performance and teamwork has also improved steadily, especially in the second half of the race and we’ve lifted our stage results from finishing last to mid-fleet.
But we missed out on our goal of achieving a podium result in one of the legs.
Still, we’re currently tied for seventh place with the Scallys (Team Scallywag) and if we can beat them by two places in the final In-Port race at the weekend then that result will be the tie-break we need to round off the race.
And I’m incredibly proud that I decided to stick with the race and continue to the finish; I had decided to drop-out in Hong Kong but then gave it another leg and it has worked out.
Still, I reckon I spent half the time wondering why I was doing this race. Considering I was supposed to be off-watch and sleeping that doesn’t leave much time for all the amazing experiences that I’ll keep with me forever.
And I have a new family that is our team and we’ve bonded closely, especially my two best friends on the crew, Bianca Cook and Francesca Clapcich; I can’t believe that we won’t be seeing each other again from next week. Bianca is returning to New Zealand - a long way away and Francesca is going to the States, almost as far.
Bianca says she’d love to do another Volvo and if you’d asked me two weeks ago I’d have said ‘no way’ but now, reflecting on everything that’s happened I’m not so sure.
The intensity of the competition, the manic schedule in-port, the stripped-down simplicity of life at sea, the non-stop-every-waking-hour concentration is both daunting and addictive. It’s definitely not a joy-ride and the constant diet of freeze-dried food is as unhealthy as it gets due to the amount of processing of the ingredients.
Thankfully I was able to use the stopovers to keep some form of basic fitness and diet while ashore.
Perhaps we were also lucky in this edition of the race that seems to have avoided light winds like the last race three years ago. Most of the time we seemed to be making good speed or better with ‘firehose’ conditions on deck.
Even the notorious Doldrums crossings were pretty quick bar one and that was gruelling, not just because we were becalmed for almost a week but also because we had been leading the fleet going into the zone.
But the end of the race has been bittersweet for all of us, winners included. Despite all the celebrations, the loss of our friend and Scallywag crew John Fisher is still deeply felt.
He was a mentor and friend to so many of us including me, generous with his time and knowledge and vital for keeping me motivated when doubts were creeping about.
I just can’t help feeling sad for his family and friends at his loss.
The old seafaring lore about the Albatross with its huge wingspan, soaring over vast tracts of deserted ocean and each supposedly carrying the soul of a dead seaman actually holds real meaning now.
For now, my ocean racing days are over and I’m so happy to have spent the last year with an amazing team
He died in the Southern Ocean and his body was never recovered so there is some comfort in the thought that he might live on as one of these magnificent birds.
Of all the discomforts and low-points of the last eight months, none compare to loss of life and I’d gladly do it all again if it could bring him back.
But now it’s time for more familiar aailing once again, back to Olympics and a fresh challenge of a new type of boat.
I’ll be home again on Sunday (so excited!) and I’ll take a week off before getting immersed into learning how to sail the 49erFX skiff with Katie Tingle. Our sights are firmly set on the Tokyo Olympics but with a long, long road ahead.
We had our first sail together when I came over for the three days during the Cardiff stop-over and we didn’t stop laughing so the next few months should be interesting.
But for now, my ocean racing days are over and I’m so happy to have spent the last year with an amazing team, learnt so much and actually sailed around the world and back again - how cool is that!!!
Endless summertime almost the entire way around the world!
Race people - everyone is in it together and part of a big family, even as the same people battle out the race.
Seeing the world - how lucky I am getting an opportunity that most people dream of.
Sunrises and Sunsets at sea, magical experiences.
Leading the fleet a few times - we were able to do it and it earned us the respect of the fleet.
Wildlife - watching dolphins and whales jumping beside the boat, especially near Ireland.
Women winning the Volvo Ocean Race!
Our team - and our message of ocean health and single-use plastics
Appreciation for a real bed (and regular sleep)
Learning how to sail a 65-foot racing yacht. Sailing 24 hours a day for weeks at a time.
The Volvo Pavillion BBQ and fresh fruit spread on arrival ashore!
Having the first real shower after three weeks at sea.
Using a real toilet in private rather than over the back of the boat while chatting to mates on deck.
Sleep-deprivation even when being off-watch and getting called on deck.
Being too hot or too cold. Rarely a nice temperature!
Freeze-dried food. NEVER AGAIN including pot-noodles, ever!
Seasickness - only twice but otherwise if medicated properly I was fine.
Missing home - I’ve learnt that I really am a home-bird.
Running out of toothpaste for three days. Not good.
Running out of toilet-paper, only one day but with eleven people on board…
Coming last into port even after putting so much effort into legs.