Ian Walker’s landmark Volvo Ocean Race triumph will be forever remembered as the fulfilment of a vow he made to his children, rather than becoming the first victorious British skipper.
That’s the view of Walker himself, little over one month on from etching himself into the history books of offshore sailing’s most iconic event.
Setting out to sail the 38,739 nautical-mile round-the-world trip, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) skipper Walker, who is a member at Warsash Sailing Club, had one thought in his mind – to win for daughters Emmy, 14 and Zoe, 11.
It was an intention he boldly penned on the race village wall in Alicante, Spain at the race’s start point back in October 2014.
Having secured Olympic silver medals in 1996 and 2000, in the 470 dinghy and Star sailboat classes respectively, Walker – who turned 45 in February – was understandably determined to ensure nine months spent apart from his family bore the fruits of both his labour and sacrifice.
And his ambition was duly realised at the end of June as he led his triumphant crew from start to finish – a feat unmatched by any other Brit in the race’s 32-year existence.
Not that Walker, who grew up watching the Volvo Ocean Race, when it was then known as the Whitbread Yacht Race, had set out to achieve that target.
Speaking to The News at the launch of ADOR sponsor Musto Clothing’s 2016 collection at Hayling Island Sailing Club, he said: ‘All of the sailors were asked to write something on race village wall at the start of the Volvo Ocean Race.
‘I wrote that I wanted to win the race so that my kids could say that their daddy won.
‘They didn’t see me win my Olympic medals, so to be able to share it (Volvo Ocean Race victory) with them made it really special, for sure.
‘As for being the first British skipper to win, I am not sure I even knew I could be until the Volvo Ocean Race PR guy pointed it out to me about half way round!
‘I didn’t really worry too much about that if I am honest.
‘Obviously we were representing Abu Dhabi, so I didn’t really have my British hat on.
‘But cut me in half and I bleed red, white and blue – oh, and a little claret and blue as well for West Ham!
‘I grew up watching the Whitbread Race in Southampton, and remember seeing my first Whitbread boat.
‘I used to go down to the dock and watch them loading the boats before the start and there has been so many good British team skippers including my boyhood hero Laurie Smith.
‘So to be on a par with those guys, let alone to be the first British skipper is amazing.’
The overall feeling for Walker upon winning was one of relief, having led the race from the very first stage.
But while victory may not have evoked the same elation as Olympic medal success, Walker believes it will be remembered as his finest sailing achievement.
He said: ‘For us, we led from the start, won the first leg and had been leading the race for eight months.
‘Certainly after arriving in America it became a case of ‘we must not throw it away from here’.
‘We didn’t have that one really big elation that we had won the race, it was more a relief at having not messed it up!
‘It’s funny because I thought that I would always say nothing compares with the Olympics – it’s only once every four years and that feeling of standing on the rostrum with the British flag is special.
‘But in 10 or 20 years time when people look back and say “Ian Walker”, they are probably going to remember me for the Volvo Ocean Race, so I think actually it is quite a big achievement.’
IAN WALKER ON...
It’s hard to imagine not being involved in the Volvo Ocean Race next time round but you cannot go on forever
Im 45 years old now and it is quite hard physcially.
The first thing, though, is that you have to be asked to do it.
So I will go and meet with the sponsors in September and see what their plans and ambitions are.
I would love to keep working with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - we have worked together for five years.
MUSTO CLOTHING AND THE IMPORTANCE OF KIT AT SEA
Musto Clothing lead the way in terms of engineering excellence.
The Volvo Ocean Race has changed, we no longer spend week after week, after week in the Southern Ocean – actually we spend a lot of time in really hot weather.
It’s just as important to protect yourself in the hot weather, especially when you’re bald like me!
We weren’t cold and wet because the quality of the clothing is so good now – we have it easy compared to the old days.
And what was really pleasing for me with this race was how much interaction we had with (Musto) designers and how we were able to modify the clothing.
Ben (Ainslie) came out to Gothenburg and we took a picture of the Volvo Ocean Race trophy together, just the two of us.
I said to him then: It will be a much better photo when you have got the America’s Cup trophy!
I knew they (BAR Racing)were going to win in Portsmouth, having spent time with the team and seen them sail in the days before.
They looked slick, fit and strong and in Ben they have got a good leader.
Everyone is behind him and they are obviously in with a big chance.
They were better than all of the other teams and they are not playing catch up.