Team SCA led virtually from start to finish to romp to a convincing victory in the Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Race in Abu Dhabi on Friday after a lack of wind nearly forced a postponement.
The third race in the series began 1hr 40mins behind schedule – another 20 minutes and the action would have been scrapped for the day – because of the missing breeze.
Finally, at 1540 local time/1140 UTC, race officials judged that the breeze had picked up enough for a viable race and the women of Team SCA never looked back.
They took a starboard course early on and by the first mark in the 3.2-nautical mile (nm), two-lap race, had established a 50-metre lead and they continued to build on it from then on with a display of consummate in-port sailing.
In the end, it almost looked easy as the Swedish-backed boat crossed the line, 1min 28secs ahead of second-placed Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED).
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who won the corresponding race here three years ago, again finished on the podium in third, 43 seconds further behind.
Ian Walker’s crew lead the overall standings by two points from Team Brunel with Team SCA now in third.
The win is doubly sweet for the first women’s crew to contest the Volvo Ocean Race in 12 years.
Skipper Sam Davies (GBR) and her crew had shown with their third place in the Cape Town In-Port Race that they have the pace to compete with their male rivals, but two sixth places in the opening two offshore legs had raised questions in some quarters about their competitiveness.
They certainly answered those in the best possible way with Davies making way for Carolijn Brouwer (NED) on the helm to steer them to this triumph in the trickiest of conditions.
"There's no 'woman of the match', it's the 'women'!" smiled Davies, back on the dock. "We're a team, and we did it together.
"We're really happy, and it's a great way to boost the whole crew's morale before we leave tomorrow for Sanya."
Indeed, this was certainly no one-woman victory, and all 11 crew proved what great strength-in-depth the team has even with their powerful bowman Sophie Ciszek (AUS) missing through a back injury, which needed surgery over Christmas.
As her crew-mates crossed the line, nobody was more excited than the temporarily sidelined Australian.
Ciszek, who watched the race from the deck of the SCA pavilion in the race village, said: "Yeah, it was frustrating because I wasn't out on the boat but, wow, it was the best thing ever because they won the race!
"It can only get better, and we're one step closer. They did really well.
"There's been some big changes. We had a big debrief (after finishing sixth in Leg 2) but it's really good to turn it around and win the in-port."
Volvo Ocean Race Results & Standings
Abu Dhabi In-Port Race result: 1 Team SCA (Sweden) 1 pt, 2 Team Brunel (Netherlands) 2 pts, 3 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 3 pts, 4 Dongfeng Race Team (China) 4 pts, 5 Team Alvimedica (Turkey/USA) 5 pts, 6 MAPFRE (Spain) 6 pts.
Overall standings in the Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Series: 1 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 6 pts, 2 Team Brunel 8, 3 Team SCA 10, 4 Team Alvimedica 12, 5 Dongfeng Race Team 13, 6 MAPFRE 16, 7 Team Vestas Wind 20.
Team Vestas Wind has announced that the team will re-join the Volvo Ocean Race before the end of the competition in June.
The Danish-backed team announced at a race prize-giving ceremony on New Year’s Day that it would make a comeback before the end of the race in Gothenburg.
On its Twitter account, Vestas CEO Morten Albaek said: "I'm proud to announce that we'll be back in the @volvooceanrace".
Vestas captain Chris Nicholson had said at the Abu Dhabi skippers’ press conference on Tuesday that the team would announce a decision on its future within a week.
The Australian said at Thursday’s awards: “This gives us the opportunity to perform one of the biggest comebacks in sailing and prove to the world who we are.”
The defiant skipper added: “We'll rebuild our boat just as we rebuild our hopes and dreams.
“This experience could've defined us. We could've allowed it to impact our campaign, our future, our lives. It won't.”
Nicholson alluded to the possibility that he will not change any of his personnel when the team do eventually re-enter the VOR.
“If I had to relive this all again I wouldn't want it to be with another bunch of guys. Today we stand together, united and real.”
Vestas, backed by Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems, recovered the $6 million boat in better-than-expected condition from the reef near the Cargados Carajos Shoals in the Indian Ocean where it ran aground on November 29.
When Nicholson returned to the reef with a salvage team in mid-December, they discovered that the boat was reparable.
They cut off the keel, removed the mast and rigging and floated the hull off the reef, then placed it on a nearby Maersk cargo ship bound for Malaysia.
The team’s Volvo 65 vessel hit the reef, around 230 nautical miles off the coast of Mauritius, at a speed of around 19 knots.
Vestas now plan to rebuild it at an Italian shipyard and re-enter the race as it approaches the homestretch in Lisbon sometime in late May.
Speaking at the press conference earlier this week, Nicholson had thanked the sailing community for the support they had received from around the world.
“It’s given us hope for the future,” he had said.
“We use that hope to keep the programme moving. Our main aim is to be back and that’s always been the ultimate goal.”
Vestas and its crew of nine was sailing north through the dark near the end of a leg two storm when it hit one in the chain of islets.
The crew eventually abandoned ship, sheltering on the islands while the US-led Team Alvimedica diverted to the area to provide communications and support.
It was revealed in the aftermath of the incident that human error had led to it, with navigator Wouter Verbraak admitting he made a mistake with routing software.
The impact spun the boat around, sheared off the rudders used for steering and left the hull at the mercy of the waves, which pounded it against the reef, destroying much of the stern beneath the waterline.
The Volvo Ocean Race Abu Dhabi Stopover reaches a thrilling climax with exciting VOR fleet racing before the world's greatest ocean sailors set off for Leg 3 to Sanya, China. The last time the Race came to the UAE, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team won the In-port race.