for National Geographic News
After 32,700 nautical miles, four oceans, nine countries, and ten ports, the German boat illbruck returned home today as the winner of the marathon Volvo Ocean Race.
Tens of thousands of spectators welcomed the victorious illbruck and seven other boats to Kiel at the conclusion of an epic sailing race that has been hotly contested since it began last September in Southampton, England.
Spectator boats were so abundant in the Kieler Foerde home stretch that some people joked it was possible to cross the water without getting your feet wet.
The happy skipper, American John Kostecki, was enthusiastic both before and after his traditional harbor dunking. "What an awesome moment, its just amazing," Kostecki said of the heartfelt welcome as he sported the race trophy. "Ive never seen anything like it before."
Describing the intensity and hard work of the past nine months, he said the victory moment made it all worthwhile: "We had an incredible battle on our hands, as we had great competition from the other teams, and they pushed us to fight for every point."
In their journey around the globe, the teams endured harsh and spartan conditionsbitter cold and searing heat, little sleep, monotonous food, and injuries both nagging and serious. Through it all, they battled to drive their boats at maximum speed 24 hours a day.
The ninth and final leg covered 250 nautical miles, a fraction of the race's total length. The sprint from Göteborg, Sweden, to Kiel, Germany, however, was more than simply a coronation for the illbruck Challenge team.
Patchy and unpredictable winds made the final day of the race a frustrating jaunt for some; for others, it was the sweet conclusion of a demanding adventure.
Norwegian entry djuice dragons, which generally performed poorly throughout the race, gained some redemption by winning the final stage.
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