Where the legends of the Volvo Ocean Race are made
Published on March 13th, 2015
Auckland, NZL (March 13, 2015) – The upcoming Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race is the leg that defines the global marathon. From New Zealand to Brazil via Cape Horn – approximately 6,776 nautical miles of open ocean racing, sometimes in near-cyclonic conditions or around icebergs, and often accompanied by the graceful albatross, the wandering bird that can glide for hours on end with a wingspan as wide as 11.5 feet.
Leg 5 is the leg that keeps the sailors coming back for more. Traveling with the weather systems, the sailors get long surfs at breakneck speeds, white-knuckle sailing at its best. The route across the “Roaring Forties” and “Furious Fifties” (denoting the lines of latitude at 40° South and 50° South) is the fastest route from New Zealand to Cape Horn, and at one point on the leg the crews will be at the most remote part of planet Earth. The sailors are never more on their own than when they’re racing in the Southern Ocean.
“When you think of the Volvo Ocean Race, you think of this leg,” said Team Alvimedica skipper Charlie Enright, who’s about to embark on his first attempt at rounding Cape Horn. “The race itself is a personal proving ground and this is what the Southern Ocean represents.”
It’s a test of seamanship as the conditions can break both boat and man. And that’s why the scheduled Sunday start of the leg has been postponed until at least Tuesday. The development of tropical cyclone “Pam” has generated winds of 100 knots and seas in excess of 10-15 meters (30-50 feet), and is expected to cross to the east of New Zealand on Monday.
“This is the Volvo Ocean Race, not the Volvo Ocean survival contest,” said Enright. “Everyone’s thinking about this reasonably. I’m confident this is the right decision.”
On the race course, event officials have set an ice boundary smack in the middle of the “Furious Fifties,” along 55S latitude between longitude 149W and 132W (an expanse of 1,020NM). The boundary is farther south for this race than the previous edition in 2011-’12, giving the sailors the ability to sail a shorter route.
Besides that boundary, the first mark of the leg is Cape Horn, at the bottom of South America. It’s not the southernmost tip of South America, but it might as well be. It’s where the South Atlantic and Southern oceans meet, and it can be a churning mess of cross waves and fog. Leave it and its treacherous waters to port and then head for the finish amid the subtropical climes of Itajaí, 1,950 miles to the north.
Team Alvimedica navigator Will Oxley knows the loneliness of the leg all too well. During the 2011-’12 race as navigator aboard the New Zealand entry, Oxley and mates were forced to sail to Chile when their boat broke during heavy pounding.
Asked what words of advice the master navigator might give the largely greenhorn crew of Team Alvimedica – which has six of the eight race crew rounding for the first time – he offered an ominous yet sensible warning.
“Clip in because you might not get a second chance,” said Oxley, who’ll be rounding the Horn for the fourth time. “If you fall over, the chance of getting you back is low. So get your sleep while you can to remain alert. Life is very different in the cold. The conditions can be ever-changing and there’ll be lots of sail changes, so you’ll need your energy. Keep eating, keep your spirits up and look after each other.
“I think the fact we have a strong team is important. That’ll show up during the leg,” Oxley said.
Team Alvimedica, the youngest crew in the Volvo Ocean Race, heads into Leg 5 in fourth place in the standings with 16 points. The Turkish-American team is tied on the scoreboard with Mapfre of Spain, the Leg 4 winner, but holds the tiebreak advantage by leading Mapfre in the In-Port Racing, where Team Alvimedica holds a 7-point advantage.
Thirty-year-old skipper Enright is one of the six – along with team co-founder and watch captain Mark Towill, American Nick Dana, Italian Alberto Bolzan, and Kiwis Dave Swete and Ryan Houston – who’ll earn a gold earring and be entitled to dine with one foot on the table, the mythical rights earned for passing Cape Horn.
“Honestly, it will be nice to have it behind us,” said Enright, sounding a skipper’s concern. “Sounds like it will be one of these things that you enjoy in the moment but you get a sense of relief when it’s over. We’ll have to manage our enthusiasm: part of us will want to push all the time, but we know that might not be best, but we can’t be conservative either. Finding the balance will be key.”
Team Alvimedica heads into the leg riding a wave of confidence. A fourth place finish on Leg 4 saw the crew pushing the leaders the whole leg, never too far behind and always with a chance to pass if the weather conditions allowed. Enright reckons the team sailed the least amount of miles on Legs 3 and 4, showing the team’s making good routing and navigation decisions.
The crew will be bolstered on Leg 5 with the addition of Stu Bannatyne, the veteran New Zealand sailor who served as a mentor and training coach for Team Alvimedica during a trans-Atlantic passage last year. A three-time winner, Bannatyne has competed in every edition of the Volvo Ocean Race since his first, in 1993-’94. He replaces Seb Marsset of France, who’s expected to rejoin the crew for Leg 6.
“This was a tough decision for us to make because Seb is one of our core crew,” said Enright. “But we’ve discussed it since last summer and Stu brings a wealth of experience that’ll be invaluable to us in the Southern Ocean.”
Bannatyne, who sailed the 2011-’12 race with Oxley, brings a hardness that could well be needed in the early days of the leg. Weather forecasts are calling for Cyclone Pam to stall off the east coast of New Zealand, generating 40-50 knots of wind and 10-12 meters (30- 40-foot) waves. Even with a Tuesday departure, Oxley says conditions this leg will still be torrid.
“We have to look after the boat,” said Oxley. “We have to sail fast but safe. Make sure we finish the leg and finish in good shape. The leg could well be decided on the South American coast, after Cape Horn. So we have to be in good shape at that point to stay in the game.”
Team Alvimedica crew race crew for Leg 5 are: Stuart Bannatyne, 43, (NZL); Alberto Bolzan, 32, (ITA); Nick Dana, 28, (Newport, RI, USA); Charlie Enright, 30, (Bristol, RI, USA); Ryan Houston, 32, (NZL); Will Oxley, 49, (AUS); Dave Swete, 30, (NZL); Mark Towill, 26, (Kanehoe, HI, USA); and OnBoard Reporter Amory Ross, 30, (Newport, RI, USA).
Team Alvimedica is the youngest entry in the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-2015, the world’s toughest and longest sporting event. The crew is led by American skipper Charlie Enright, age 30. Alvimedica, the European based medical devices company, is the team’s owner. Founded in 2007, Alvimedica is a fast growing challenger in the global field of interventional cardiology, committed to developing minimally-invasive technologies. This is the team’s first entry in the extremely challenging 39,000-mile race that started October 11, 2014 from Alicante, Spain and features stopovers in 11 ports around the world.
Report by Team Alvimedica
Background: The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race began in Alicante, Spain on Oct. 11 with the final finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Racing the new one design Volvo Ocean 65, seven teams will be scoring points in 9 offshore legs to determine the overall Volvo Ocean Race winner. Additionally, the teams will compete in 10 In-Port races at each stopover for a separate competition – the Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Series. The fifth leg, from Auckland, NZL to Itajaí, Brazil (6,776 nm), begins March 17 (tentatively) with an ETA between April 2 and April 12. Race website.