#vor – Former Irish Green Dragon sailors Ian Walker (GBR) and his Munster bowman Justin Slattery on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have all but clinched the 12th edition of offshore sailing's toughest challenge in the early hours of Thursday, when a third place in Leg 8 left them with an eight-point lead in the Volvo Ocean Race with one stage to go.
Only a very unlikely combination of a last-place finish in Leg 9 to Gothenburg from Lorient, France, plus at least two penalty points can deprive the team of a remarkable achievement.
For Walker, 45, it is the realisation of a career ambition to become the first British skipper to win the overall trophy in the 41-year-old event, although John Chittenden won the Cruising Division of the 1989-90 edition won by Sir Peter Blake's Steinlager2.
Walker led an Irish team round the world with the Green Dragon Volvo Ocean Race bid in the 2009 race. He has been contiously racing round the world since then in search of his historic win.
In spite of the disappointing performance of Green Dragon the boat was welcomed in to Galway after the 2009 Transatlantic leg by a huge crowd and a week long celebration that has subsequently set the bar for all other stop over ports in the 2012 race.
For Cork's Slattery, it will be his second win in the global race and follows his ABN–AMRO victory in 2006.
And it is no less of an extraordinary achievement for the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing project, which only entered the race for the first time in 2011-12 and finished a disappointing fifth. The team and skipper Walker learnt hard lessons.
A pre-race strategy for 2014-15 of a podium finish in each leg has been carried out almost to perfection - they were fifth in Leg 7 - to take them through to a handsome victory.
Their triumph was set up at 0305 UTC/0505 local time on Thursday, when they finished in the final podium position behind fairy-tale Leg 8 winners Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) and runners-up, Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS).
With MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP) obligingly sandwiched in fourth between Azzam and Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED), it was mission all but accomplished for Walker and his ecstatic crew.
"It's not really sunk in yet," said a still dazed Walker. "When we passed the finish line we all went quiet and asked ourselves 'is that it?'
The boats will have a short maintenance period before Sunday's SCA In-Port Race Lorient (June 14) before the fleet set sail for Gothenburg, via a much-awaited pit-stop in The Hague, on Tuesday, June 16.
The Race is anything but over, of course. No less than four boats can still finish runner-up behind Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with Team Brunel (27 points), Dongfeng Race Team (29), MAPFRE (31) and Team Alvimedica (33) all within six points of each other.