“It’s awesome. We sailed very, very well, it was a very tight finish – it’s been such a monster of a leg!”
After full focus and concentration for 18d 23h 30min 10s, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker finally lets out a smile.
And he has reason to grin. His boat has just won the toughest leg of all – Leg 5, through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn.
On top of that, they’ve extended their lead at the top of the rankings, and become the first team this edition to win two legs.
Oh, and won the IWC 24 hour Speed Record Challenge, chalking up a whopping 550 miles in just a one day period on March 30!
“We were so stoked with the record,” he beams. “After about 8 hours I said to the guys, ‘look, I want to get that, even if it means losing distance in the race, I want to go for it’. That’s what actually got us back in with the leaders.
“The great thing about one-design is if you sail well, you do well – and if you make mistakes or don’t sail well, you don’t.
“I’ve had 2 very tough races without a fast enough boat. It’s very tough on everyone involved in the team, the sailors. You’re never sure whether it’s you.
“But I can’t speak highly enough of everyone in my team. We have 7 out of 8 of our guys drive so no-one has to drive for too long, we get to rotate a lot.
“There were periods in this leg where we didn’t sail well, where we lost distance, but there were long periods where we sailed very well, particularly when it was very breezy down south.”
And it was breezy, too – but the Emirati crew and their skipper remained patient, and persistent, to bury the miserable memories of three years ago, when they failed to make it around Cape Horn – having to stop in Puerto Montt, Chile, for repairs.
“It was pretty nasty, I can tell you,” he continues, reflecting on the last couple of weeks. “We backed off a fair bit.”
“Obviously Dongfeng breaking their mast had quite an effect on us psychologically. It became more important to finish than maybe necessarily to finish first or second.
“We didn’t want to risk anything, it was big seas, we had 50 knots on multiple occasions.
“We dropped the keel, we tried to manage it, we lost probably about 10 miles to the fleet doing so, but in hindsight it seems like a pretty shrewd decision.
“Our job list is shorter than any leg thus far, we never had to slow down for anything, the sails are in good shape.
“A big, big thankyou to all the guys on our shore team. Maybe it’s a bit of nursing by the sailors as well – but one way or another we kept it in one piece.”
It leaves Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing sitting seven points ahead after five legs, with four left to sail.