One hundred and sixteen days after 33 boats left the safe harbour of Les Sables d’Olonne in northern France, the ninth Vendee Globe ended on Friday as Finnish airline pilot Ari Huusela returned to the port.
Crossing the finish line in his yacht Stark 36 days after the winner Yannick Bestaven, Huusela brought the extraordinary single-handed non-stop round-the-world solo yacht race to a close, claiming 25th place.
The Finn, passionate about sailing since the 1980s, becomes the first Nordic skipper to complete the challenge.
"I first came here in 1996, so it's something I’ve dreamed of for 25 years," the 58-year-old said at his final press conference.
In spite of being last across the line, it was a moment of triumph for Huusela who arrived onstage singing along to the lyric "what have you done today to make you feel proud?” from Heather Small’s "Proud" -- a track Huusela also chose to play as he arrived in port earlier on Friday.
"To see the crowds on the channel when I came in felt really, really good. I couldn’t imagine there’d be so many people cheering.
"I thought the skippers were kind of extra-terrestrials, but I’ve done it and I’m human, so it can be done."
Early on in the race Huusela had suffered a near capsize and then an electricity blackout, the type of technical problems that have become hallmarks of the Vendee Globe.
He bounced back after making repairs and avoided being one of the eight competitors forced to withdraw following damage to their vessels.
- Thomson support -
Huusela’s journey from Finnair jets to Imoca boats received support from other competitors who were on hand to offer advice when needed.
Welshman and early favourite Alex Thomson has been a good friend of Huusela’s for five years. Huusela even arranged to pilot the flight Thomson took to Finland to spend time with him a few years ago.
"I went over to Finland to help Ari and he told me he’d arranged my plane ticket," Thomson told AFP.
"I got on the plane and an air stewardess came up and told me the captain was a bit of a hobby sailor and would like to meet me. Two minutes later, I met the pilot… it was Ari!"
Thomson, who led the race until his boat HugoBoss was damaged, forcing him to retire, was thrilled at Huusela's achievement.
“You did it!” Thomson said. “We all know how tough this race is. You can be really proud of what you have accomplished. Well done!”
English skipper Sam Davies was another confidant and was on hand to welcome Huusela back at Les Sables in person on Friday.
"I was quite scared to cross the Southern Ocean," Huusela remembered.
"I didn’t know what to expect and had only heard horror stories, so it was helpful to get advice from other skippers like Sam.
"It was funny. I was quite scared approaching Cape Horn with the 45 knots of wind and huge seas. I told Sam my fear and she said she’d have more fear in the aeroplane.
"I promised to take Sam into the cockpit to show her what it’s like passing storm clouds and how it's not so scary when you're on the controls."
Huusela’s finish marks the end of the Vendee Globe 2020 with the next edition setting sail in 2024.
It was the closest finish ever with Charlie Dalin the first across the line but beaten into second place by Bestaven who was granted bonus hours for his role in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier.
Bestaven's finish time of 80 days 3hr 44min 46sec was less than three hours ahead of Dalin with the first eight all arriving within 19 hours.