It started almost a year ago, when eight sailboats left Valencia, Spain, on a round-the-world race, the Volvo Ocean Race. 10 different legs scheduled from port-to-port, with in-port match races at each stop. Almost an entire year with these crews pushing their boats to the breaking point through the harshest sailing conditions on the planet. One the best in the world and/or truly insane even dare be involved in the VOR.
Along the way one team had to suspend racing (Team Russia) due to lack of funding while in port in Singapore. Almost every boat nearly sank along the way due to hitting debris, or weather conditions nearly shredding their boats apart. Crewmen were injured, sails were torn, boats ran aground...and in the end it is Team Ericsson 4, led by Brazilian captain Torben Grael, that has separated itself from the pack enough to declare victory.
With conclusion of leg 9 today in Stockholm, with one leg of the race left to go to St. Petersburg, Ericsson 4 has enough points after their third place finish in leg 9 to win the overall prize of Volvo Ocean Race champions. This has proven once again that Torben Grael is indeed the best sailor around today.
The boats had some screwy moments along the way...Hitting rocks almost having their keels torn off, striking whales, getting stuck on lobster pots and fishing nets, getting a shark stuck on a daggerboard dragging it along at 30 knots, the marathon leg 5 from China all the way around the horn to Rio De Janeiro with boats separated only by minutes, etc.
While the race has existed in various forms for over 30 years, it has never garnered much media attention, for obvious reasons because these boats are out in the middle of nowhere going around the world only appearing in port after weeks at sea at a time. But with the advent of technology the race could be followed online in real time through www.volvooceanrace.org this year, and for the past year since the race began I have been glued to my computer each day to get updates on the race while recording every race update episode that aired weekly on Versus and PBS for on-boat footage and race recaps.
It's been a long march to Stockholm, but now with a whopping 108 points for Ericsson 4 it is a chase for second place.
Congratulations Ericsson 4, you definitely earned the title this year.
My personal favorite moment from the race came when the fleet was leaving Boston for the start of leg 7 to Galway, Ireland. As the seven sailboats sailed down the channel out of Boston harbor suddenly emerging out of the fog coming right towards them was a giant freighter ship, forcing all seven boats to quickly scramble to gybe away in time to avoid colliding with the massive hull.
I love yacht racing. It is just so fascinating to watch...when you know what to watch for, it's like chess on water.