12/12/2013 03:38 EST | Updated 02/11/2014 05:59 EST

Canadian skipper Holden leads Henri Lloyd to Race 5 win in Round the World event

SYDNEY - Canadian skipper Eric Holden guided the Henri Lloyd to its first win of the world's longest ocean race.

The 33-year-old from Vancouver and his crew won Race 5 of the 16-race Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, to maintain their first-place spot overall in what's considered the toughest global endurance challenge.

"This win has been a long time coming," said Holden, whose crew celebrated with champagne in Rushcutter Bay. "We've been the bridesmaid for the last couple of races so it's nice to do one better and win. . .

"People have been asking me if I would be happy winning the overall race without winning one. My answer is always yes, but it feels so much better to win a race then come second or third."

The race from Albany to Sydney followed a particularly brutal and dramatic Southern Ocean crossing.

Early on, as the boats headed south through the Indian Ocean's Agulhas Current into the Roaring Forties, two boats had to divert and transport injured crew by air after exceptionally strong winds — with gusts in excess of 145 kilometres per hour —and towering waves lashed the fleet.

Every two to three days, the yachts were hit by new low pressure systems which made for a particularly challenging Leg.

"What's been interesting about this race has been the mixture of offshore and inshore racing. With the interchangeable weather it meant a lot more sail changes and a lot more work for the crew," said Holden, who was the weather forecaster for the Canadian sailing team at the 2012 London Olympics.

"Our strategy for this race was to take it more conservatively and when our chance game we were ready to push hard and make it count."

This is the ninth edition of the race, which started Sept. 1 in London in front of a crowd of 120,000 people.

The race visits 12 countries, covering 64,373.8 kilometres over 11 months.