Women make history in winning Volvo Ocean Race crew

Carolijn Brouwer (pictured here) and Marie Riou were part of the Dongfeng crew that edged a thrilling final leg from Gothenburg, Sweden to The Hague after an arduous -- and at times tragic -- 45,000-mile global race. It was the closest-ever finish in the prestigious sailing event.

(CNN) — Sailing history was made on Sunday, as two women tasted victory in the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race for the first time.

Carolijn Brouwer and Marie Riou were part of the Dongfeng crew that edged a thrilling final leg from Gothenburg, Sweden to The Hague after an arduous — and at times tragic — 45,000-mile global race. It was the closest-ever finish in the prestigious sailing event.

The China-backed Dongfeng, skippered by Charles Caudrelier, overhauled its rivals in the final 30 miles of the nine-month race to top the podium ahead of Spanish team MAPFRE and Team Brunel of the Netherlands. The trio had been tied on points heading into the 11th and final 970-mile leg.

“We always trusted each other,” Frenchman Caudrelier told reporters. “Nobody thought we were going to win this last leg, but I had a good feeling.

“I said ‘We can’t lose, we can’t lose, we can’t lose’… and we won.”

The breaking of sailing’s glass ceiling — with Brouwer, Riou and Swiss Justine Mettraux on two legs — came about because of a change in rules for this 13th edition.

All-male lineups were limited to seven sailors whereas mixed crews could feature nine or 10 sailors, depending on the combination of personnel. All seven teams featured male and female sailors. .

‘Inspiring role models’
“I said before the start of this last leg, ‘I am about to start the most important race of my life,’ and that’s exactly what it’s been,” the 44-year-old Brouwer told CNN Mainsail. “Nothing is comparable to what we’ve just achieved today, it’s awesome. I’m out of words, it’s the best feeling and I can’t thank my team enough.”

Two-time Olympic sailing champion Shirley Robertson, who presents CNN Mainsail, tweeted: “A big day for Women in Sport… let’s hope it’s just the beginning! Inspiring role models.”

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The race will be remembered for the death of Briton John Fisher, who was lost at sea during the leg from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai in Brazil.

The 47-year-old, sailing for the Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag team, fell overboard 1,400 nautical miles west of Cape Horn and was never found.

“I have very mixed emotions right now,” skipper David Witt told reporters shortly after finishing.

“I’m incredibly proud of our team both on and off the water. We’re very tight, and we have gone through a lot … but I’m also sad, of course.

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“I didn’t finish it with my best mate who we started with. So very mixed emotions, but I’m glad we finished it.”

The Volvo Ocean Race, which began in 1973 as the Whitbread Round-the-World Race, now takes place every three years.