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Girls Rule!

Leg 8 gives women their first win and Abu Dhabi Racing the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race trophy

Team SCA celebrate the first leg of a Volvo Ocean Race won by an all-woman crew.

It has been a long time coming, but an all-woman team has won a leg of the modern Volvo Ocean Race.
    English skipper Sam Davies and her largely rookie crew of Olympic champions of Team SCA had won some in-port races but not an offshore leg.
    That changed on the next to last leg of the round-the-world sailing battle when the women won the 647-mile, four-day sprint from Lisbon to Lorient, France, under gale-force, boat-bashing, up-wind conditions. They led most of the way after taking a big gamble by sailing far offshore while the boys in the other boats safely hugged the shoreline of Spain and France.
    Make no mistake, this was no fluke. Team SCA proved that they can sail as fast as any team of men in the world, and they did it with overpowering strength and style.
    As when the U.S women won the World Cup 16 years ago and America suddenly noticed that women are just as tough and talented as the men who invariably get all of the glory, this sailing victory is a sports milestone. Young girls who are now sailing at Severn Sailing or Annapolis Yacht Club can take heart in knowing that in June of 2015, 12 tenacious women from the U.K., Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States stood atop the winner’s podium in France.
    It has been a very tough road for the women, and this victory was many years in the making. No women’s entry had finished all of the legs of a Volvo Ocean Race in more than 20 years.
    As the race has evolved, it has become harder for women to compete. With the advent of the canting keels, the boats could carry larger and much heavier sails.
    When I helped with the Brasil shore crew eight years ago and went for some practice sails, I can remember how many strong men it took to move the sails around above and below deck on a calm day out on the Chesapeake Bay: It was like hoisting a telephone pole. Now, imagine a bunch of women trying to accomplish the same task, in the dark, in the Southern Ocean, with rolling 40-foot seas and 60-mile-per-hour winds, and you can see why it has been so bloody hard for the women to compete.
    It simply wasn’t a fair fight. And it was dangerous as well. Not since 2002 has there been an all-women’s entry in the race.
    When race organizers decided on a one-design Volvo 65 this round, the women jumped back into the mix. They were still at a disadvantage. That is exemplified by the fact that they have usually sailed with a crew of 12 while the men sailed with only nine.
    The latest race had run true to form with the women always finishing last — but at least finishing every leg of the race.
    But with each leg, they got better, stronger and even more determined to excel. Now those losing days are gone forever.
    Skipper Sam Davies had this to say about the convincing victory: “Thanks to everybody for all your support. It’s a reward for all the hard work we have done. It’s a great confidence booster. It’s going to be huge for us. We’ve had a mountain to climb to get here.”
    Let the celebration begin!
    The girls weren’t the only winners in Leg 8.
    By finishing third, veteran skipper Ian Walker and the lads aboard Abu Dhabi Racing went eight points ahead of their nearest rival, the Dutch boat Brunel, leaving only six points in play on the final leg.
    So on June 27, after a nine-month, 38,739-nautical-mile, round-the-earth enduro sailing competition, Ian and the boys will raise the silver trophy above their heads at the finish line in Gothenburg, Sweden, and be crowned the champions of the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.