Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race
- Walker, Davies and Nicholson with much to celebrate
- Fleet now takes stock ahead of final leg to Gothenburg
LORIENT, France, June 12 – Three skippers with different points to prove made the Lorient dock an oasis of hard-won satisfaction for the podium finishers at the end of a short, but super-challenging Volvo Ocean Race Leg 8.
For Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper, Ian Walker (GBR), it was the triumphant feeling of returning to the race for the third time and achieving a career ambition in all but sewing up offshore sailing's most prestigious title with one stage to go.
Sam Davies's (GBR) emotions were similarly not difficult to fathom on the Brittany port's packed dock in the emerging dawn on Thursday.
Her crew of intensely proud, professional female sailors had taken criticism that they were not up to the job of taking on the men in the nine-month, 38,739-nautical mile race – and they had just answered those 'experts' in the best way possible.
Although Leg 8 was much shorter than its seven predecessors, any of the sailors in the seven competing boats will tell you that, in intensity, it was one of the toughest legs of the course.
Conditions were challenging from day one with strong head winds (35 knots plus) and a hideous short sea almost all the way from Lisbon to Lorient.
Team SCA's women not just mastered those conditions, but they pulverised the competition – in relative terms – by leading virtually all the way.
For the stage's runner-up, Chris Nicholson (AUS), skipper of Team Vestas Wind, the sensation of a job done almost to perfection must have run just as deep as with Walker and Davies.
Many had predicted that the blue boat would not even be on the start line in the penultimate leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.
A calamitous collision with an unyielding rock and coral reef in the middle of the Indian Ocean back in November during Leg 2 should have written off Nicholson's boat, Vestas Wind, there and then.
But backed by Vestas, secondary sponsors Powerhouse, and a shore crew just as determined as he, Nicholson defied apparent logic and helped oversee the re-building of his campaign.
And on Thursday, that re-birth came to a magnificent conclusion as they easily stole second place behind Team SCA.
"When I look at what we had to get through to get the boat on the water, if I have to be honest, I was kind of hoping we would do fourth or fifth," said Nicholson, on arrival in Lorient to be greeted by his family.
"Second – I'm over the moon."
His friend and newly appointed navigator, Tom Addis (AUS), knows that feeling.
"Nico has been through a lot this race, and I can't imagine how relieved he'd be to have a good result.
"Expectations are not something we've talked about at all, and I'm the same as Nico. I had no idea if we would do first or last or somewhere in the middle. I was very confident going into this with him in the first place – we're very similar people, very simple types really."
Nicholson, Davies and Walker will now have four more days in Lorient, along with their rivals from Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED), MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP), Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) and Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA), before they all set sail for the final leg of the race on Tuesday, to Gothenburg, via a pit-stop in The Hague.
On Sunday, they will turn their attention to the SCA In-Port Race Lorient in a series that is very finely poised (see Scoreboard).
Rick Tomlinson / Team SCA
Marc Bow / Volvo Ocean Race
Marc Bow / Volvo Ocean Race