After 11 months, 64,000 kilometres and six continents, the Henri Lloyd sailed across the finish line of the world's longest yachting race in first place Saturday, largely because its skipper is also a weatherman.
Canadian Eric Holden, 33, and his crew completed the final leg of the event, from Den Helder, the Netherlands, to London, England, to win the Clipper Round the World Race – a year-long sailing competition made up of 16 races via Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Australia, Singapore, China, San Francisco, Panama, Jamaica, New York and Northern Ireland.
"Each leg [of the race] is so different, so unique … you got hurricane-strength winds and seas that are four storeys high, and you also have the tropics, where it's so hot there may be no wind for days and you're not moving," said Vancouver's Mr. Holden.
The conditions during the voyage from Singapore to Qingdao, China, were particularly treacherous, recalled Ryan Bates, 32, of Washington, who quit his job at the Pentagon to participate in the race and had never ocean-sailed before.
"We were, no joke, smashing through the seas. We would go up and the tools, everything, would go flying and then land down again, and we did that for days," he said.
But as a former weather forecaster for the Canadian sailing team at the London Olympics in 2012, Mr. Holden saw storms coming a mile away and would often divert from the fastest routes if it meant getting better weather.
"We had a great skipper who is a meteorologist and probably one of the reasons why our boat won because he is so good with that stuff," Mr. Bates said.
And for a boat full of interior designers, accountants, teachers, lawyers and IT consultants (the only professionals in the event are the skippers), Mr. Holden's expertise came as a comfort to the crew.
"I never actually really felt fear on board because we had such an amazing skipper who really did make sure we'd be safe all the time," Mr. Bates said.
Half of the 20 crew members on board each race were always on deck while the others rested below, in four-hour shifts.
Between each shift, there was time only to eat, use the washroom, undress and dress, and maybe catch three hours of shut-eye.
"That's one of the hardest things to get used to, is perpetually being disturbed from your slumber," said Michael Jauncey, 71, from Toronto, who competed in the last two legs of the race (the Henri Lloyd had 55 crew members total, but only nine raced the entire event).
As skipper, Mr. Holden spent as much time on deck as possible, working with and coaching the team. But where the crew had a structured routine, Mr. Holden had no schedule, sometimes staying up for 36 or 48 hours straight when the race was tight or the weather rough, he said.
"A lot of that is just a choice. To finish, you've got a 10-mile lead with a couple hundred miles left to go, and any mistake is going to cost you, put you back, so just stay up.
"The crew feeds me a lot of coffee and just keep pushing on," he said.
The "mother" of each day prepared the crew's meals, which ranged from milk and cereal for breakfast to Indonesian food and shepherd's pie for lunch and dinner.
"After a while, it all started to look and taste the same" said Mr. Jauncey about the menu.
The Henri Lloyd finished the race with 166.9 points, while Britain came in second with a score of 150. (Points are accumulated in a Formula 1-style scoring system: 12 points are up for grabs in each of the 16 races, with the first-place finisher earning 12 and the last-place team taking one. The yacht with the highest total points at the end wins the Clipper Race trophy).
As well as the skipper, the Henri Lloyd crew included four others from Canada: James Dick from Victoria, Morgen Watson from Calgary, Fiona Garforth-Bles from Bragg Creek, Alta., and Mr. Jauncey.
While sailing is a small sport in Canada, Mr. Holden said he hopes to see offshore sailing become more popular.
"It's been really rewarding to see the growth and support and interest in Canada over the [race]," he said.