Two women just made history by winning the gruelling Volvo Ocean Race, which is considered the 'Everest of sailing'

Brian Carlin/Volvo Ocean RaceThe Volvo Ocean Race is one of the world’s toughest sailing races.

The Volvo Ocean Race, one of the toughest sailing races on the planet, has come to a thrilling conclusion.

The DongFeng Race Team sailed to victory on Sunday evening, finishing the around-the-world race just 16 minutes ahead of the pack.

It was the closest the race has ever been, and also the first time that a team that included women took the trophy.

Held every three years, the nine-month, 40,000-mile race is a gruelling test of will and ability for some of the world’s best sailors. Along the way, the teams visit six continents, cross the equator, and experience temperatures ranging from below freezing to burning hot – all with as little gear as possible to keep weight down on the boats.

The race has been called the ‘Everest of sailing’ because of the difficult conditions teams face.

But the payoff is worth it, the competitors say.

“When you think about that sense of achievement when you get to another country, it’s incredible,” Brian Carlin, an onboard reporter that Volvo Ocean Race pays to sail with the competitors, told Business Insider. “It’s a pretty unique event and certainly very, very unique experience.”

The winner of the race is determined by a points system. Teams earn points by pulling into ports first, second, or third at the end of each of the race’s 11 legs. Double points get awarded for the most difficult legs, and the team with the fastest overall time receives bonus points.In the end, the group with the highest overall total wins the trophy.

Here’s what it’s like to sail thousands of miles through the open ocean with the fleet.


Only the toughest, most experienced sailors are capable of participating in the race. On the longest legs, competitors spend close to a month at sea, running the boat 24 hours a day.

Brian Carlin/Volvo Ocean RaceChris Nicholson works the waves on May 5, 2018.

The boats are designed for speed — not comfort — so it can be a wet, bumpy ride when the weather isn’t cooperating. Each boat is 65 feet long and built to withstand punishing ocean conditions.

Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean RaceIn Leg 7, boats sailed from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (March 30, 2018)

“It’s an experience,” Carlin said. “It can be pretty bleak and if you’re on deck, you’re getting hosed by waves and the salt water gets into your skin and you get calluses and you get rashes and it’s… Yeah, it’s actually not that appealing when you think about it.”

Ugo Fonolla/Volvo Ocean Race

This year’s race started in Alicante, Spain in October 2017.

Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

The fleet completes the journey in 11 parts. The sailors just completed the final leg, finishing the race in The Hague.

Jesus Renedo/Volvo Ocean Race

The teams experienced favourable sailing conditions during the Atlantic crossing – one of the toughest legs – hitting speeds of over 35 miles per hour and smashing records for distance sailed in 24 hours.

If you want to see what it’s like to sail at almost 40 miles per hour in the middle of the ocean, check out this video:


Team DongFeng clinched the victory, finishing just 17 minutes ahead of the team’s chief rival, the Spain-based Team MAPFRE.

Jen Edney/Volvo Ocean RaceTeam DongFeng sails toward the race finish in Gothenburg, Sweden.

It was the closest finish ever in the Volvo Ocean Race, and team DongFeng also made history as the first team with women to lift the trophy.

Pedro Martinez/Volvo Ocean RaceCarolijn Brouwer of Team DongFeng lifts the trophy in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The 2017-2018 edition of the race was the first time it required women to be included on each of the sailing teams.

Brian Carlin/Volvo Ocean RaceEmily Nagel fights the elements on the way from Itajai, Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island on May 2, 2018.

The event is highly competitive. The boats are often just minutes apart from each other at all times as they travel over 15,000 miles and spend weeks at sea.

Yann Riou/Volvo Ocean RaceAbby Ehler endures cold, difficult conditions after sailing around Cape Horn, March 30, 2018.

The boats can reach speeds of up to 32 knots, or over 35 miles per hour, in prime sailing conditions. The vessels can also “surf” down large waves, breaking 30 knots.

Sam Greenfield/Volvo Ocean RaceIn Leg 4, boats sailed from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong.

The ships can cover around 500 nautical miles in 24 hours in good sailing conditions if the crew is “sending it,” Carlin said.

Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

On each boat, the 10 members of the crew have specific job functions.

James Blake/Volvo Ocean RaceMartine Grael is pictured during Leg 7, in which teams sailed from Auckland to Itajai, March 22, 2018.

The navigator’s job is to set the route to maximise optimal weather and wind conditions.

Anna-Lena Elled / Team SCA / Vol

But the skipper, or captain, always makes the final decision, Carlin said.

Yann Riou/Volvo Ocean RaceKyle Langford looks at the navigation station while Thomas Rouxel eats his diner. Condensation is visible on the ceiling. (March 21, 2018)

An onboard reporter like Carlin is assigned to each boat to document the trip for the Volvo Ocean Race organisation. They live and sleep with the crew but aren’t allowed to help sail in any way.

Sam Greenfield/Volvo Ocean RacePeter Burling focuses on speed as he sails from Itajai to Newport, May 4, 2018.

The reporters train their pens and cameras on the sailors at all times — even when the team is grumpy and exhausted, Carlin said.

Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean RaceCompetitors sail from Itajai to Newport on April 23, 2018.

Leg 7 of the race requires the sailors to round Chile’s infamous Cape Horn, a peninsula that has proven to be a graveyard for ships for hundreds of years. That’s where teams experience some of the most vicious weather.

Sam Greenfield/Volvo Ocean Race

“It’s a pressure cooker environment where every sail change, every decision, every little movement on the boat counts for winning or losing,” Carlin said.

Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean RaceThe sun sets during Leg 6.

But that’s all part of the challenge. Many sailors see the race as a test of will between them and sea.

Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race

Life on board the ship isn’t easy. The sailors bring minimal clothing — just what they need to stay warm in cold and wet conditions. All the food they eat is pre-packed and freeze-dried.

Amory Ross / Team Alvimedica / V

There’s nothing resembling bedrooms or even traditional beds on the ships.

Konrad Frost/Volvo Ocean RaceAfter his watch, Alex Gough seeks out food and sleep, March 20, 2018.

The sailors usually only sleep for 3 or 4 hours between shifts, Carlin said.

Rich Edwards/Volvo Ocean RaceBen Piggott sleeps during Leg 8 from Itajai to Newport, April 23, 2018.

“I suppose the best way to describe it is sitting in a one-bedroom apartment with 10 people, a bucket for a toilet, your freeze-dried meal comes out of a bag, and then you go to sea for three weeks,” Carlin said. He added that most people just go to the bathroom off the back of the boat.

Sam Greenfield/Volvo Ocean RaceSailors rest during Leg 4 from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong, January 6, 2018.

“It’s either freezing cold or super hot,” Carlin added. “There’s no windows you can open, the smells get pretty funky, and you’re always tired, and you haven’t slept that much.”

Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean RaceRacers encountered light winds and warm temperatures en route to Auckland, New Zealand during Leg 6.

In the area near the equator, there’s not much wind, so the sailors get a lot of downtime to rest and do repairs on the ship. They refer to it “the doldrums.”

Brian Carlin/Volvo Ocean RaceBrad Farrand clears seaweed from the rudders as his boat crosses the equator and encounter some Sargasso Seaweed on May 1, 2018.

With little wind in that area, the boats can usually only travel around 60 miles in a day, a pace Carlin said can feel “pretty painful.”

Sam Greenfield/Volvo Ocean Race

While life during the race is mostly gruelling, the sailors still find time to have fun.

Yann Riou/Volvo Ocean Race

One of the rituals that sailors practice when they cross the equator is a sacrifice to King Neptune, the god of the sea. Teams’ approaches differ, but the ceremony usually involves the skipper dressing up as Neptune and covering a rookie sailor — or other team member — in food, paint, or something else gross.

Konrad Frost/Volvo Ocean RaceFor sailors meeting King Neptune at the equator, respects are always paid on board. (January, 12, 2018)

As hard-core sailors, each competitor lives for the race’s sublime moments on the open ocean.

Brian Carlin/Volvo Ocean RaceEmily Nagel awaits the equator crossing, April 30, 2018.

But the Volvo Ocean race is a team sport. “You cannot be an individual on these teams,” Carlin said. “You’re not gonna survive, you won’t be accepted.”

Amory Ross/Volvo Ocean RaceIt’s all smiles for Nick Dana, Tom Johnson, and Mark Towill — with the Doldrums drift-off a thing of the past, new winds carry the fleet north towards the equator, January 11, 2018.

“This is about being a team and working together and getting the best out of it,” Carlin said.

Brian Carlin/Volvo Ocean RaceA sailor works on the boat’s sails at sea on April 28, 2018.

The next Volvo Ocean Race will be held in 2020 and 2021.

Sam Greenfield/Volvo Ocean RaceSunrise at the equator, April 30, 2018.

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