The last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race was Walker’s third attempt and it was no secret that he was a man on a mission after finishing a disappointing fifth out of sixth in 2011-12.
“There are 100 ways to lose this race but only one way to win it, and it just all came together for us perfectly,” he said after becoming the first Briton to skipper a win in the event’s 37 year history.
It had been a long journey for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. “None of those involved will fail to remember the gut-wrenching disappointment of the mast breaking on the first night leaving Alicante in 2011 or the desperate bid to stay in the race after damaging the boat in the Southern Ocean and retiring from Leg 5,” he recalled.
But clearly lessons were learnt before the next outing. Not only did they win the race, they broke the 24-Hour Distance Record of 550.82 nautical miles the day before rounding Cape Horn as well as smash the Round Britain and Ireland record. Of particular satisfaction to Walker personally was winning the two legs they had retired from in the previous race.
Winning the Volvo Ocean Race capped a slew of successes for the skipper which have also included Fastnet Race and Round Britain and Ireland wins. In 2016, Walker was named Yachtsman of the Year.
He began sailing aged 14 and won silver medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the 470 class (with John Merricks) and silver again at Sydney four years later in the Star class (with Mark Covell). He then turned coach, masterminding Shirley Robertson and her Yngling team to gold in Athens in 2004.
He then shifted his focus again, this time to ocean racing, first to the America’s Cup. He was skipper when Britain launched its first bid in 2000, then in 2007 he joined fellow Olympic medallist Iain Percy as the tactician of the Italian team +39 Challenge before turning his attention to the Volvo Ocean Race. In 2008-09, he led Green Dragon and then took charge of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's debut in the race in 2011-12, with a reputation for planning for success.
“Ian’s skill-set – and only a couple of skippers in the world have it – is that he has a very quick mind and the ability to be across a lot of things. He is not only looking at the boat’s performance but also the budget, personnel, all those aspects,” his business partner Jamie Boag has said. “He would’ve been successful at whatever he turned his hand to.”