Volvo Ocean Race: Fast and Furious to Cape Horn
Published on March 28th, 2015
(March 28, 2015; Day 12) – “It’s going to be fast and furious between now and Cape Horn,” says Race Meteorologist Gonzalo Infante, scanning the Volvo Ocean Race routing on the screen. Ahead of him, yellow turns to gold turns to orange turns to red. And where there’s red, there’s reason to be nervous.
“From a safety point of view this is concerning,” he continues. “The sea state is rough, and tonight, the boats will be hit by a cold front. These fronts travel very fast, faster than the fleet in fact. So as it blows over, they will experience a change of wind direction from northwesterly to westerly. It will be rough for the leading pack.”
At the moment, the boats are travelling fast, surfing with the help of a generous 20 knot breeze from the west. But as the hours tick by, that wind could ramp up and shift, gusting in from the northwest at 30 or even 35 knots. There will be a point where the sailors stop focusing on speed, and start concentrating on survival.
“It’s going to be downwind all the way to Cape Horn for us,” explains navigator Libby Greenhalgh in the dark of the Team SCA computer station.
“Essentially we’re riding the low pressure system there, and we’ve got a building breeze so strategically for us it’s about getting our sail changes at the right point. The breeze is going to pick up to a good 30 knots solid and we’re looking at some squalls with gusts of 45 to 50 knots at times.”
At the moment, the magenta boat sits in sixth place, and if they’re not careful, they could get caught by an angry weather system, according to Gonzalo.
“This system is 1000 miles across in diameter,” he points out. “It’s been travelling for a while and it is a bit like a snowball. Although it probably started small, as it goes it drags other lows along with it. There will be a heinous sea state, and they will need to be fast in order to keep safe – they need to out run it. If they can keep ahead with a moderate 4 or 5 metre sea state, then they might be okay.”
Libby is well aware that the next 48 hours could be more about survival than speed.
“At points it’s probably going to be a bit about battening down the hatches,” she admits. “For us, it’s about getting to Cape Horn with all of our sails. We are technically minus one at the moment which changes some of the angles we can do and with the breeze picking up I think we’ll be on some of our smaller sails anyway.”
The closeness of the top five boats, and the desire to skip along the ice limit, has led to constant gybes and crossings.
“Every hour and a half we have to move 2,000 kilos of equipment,” laughs Simon Fisher, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. He rubs his tired face with calloused hands. “And we’ve been doing it for two or three days now!”
Cape Horn veteran Stu Bannatyne on Team Alvimedica comments on the situation.
“The weather is such that we’re kind of forced to sail right down the edge of the ice limit, and that means we’re basically having to gybe every hour to stay on the right side of the shift,” he says. “We’re hoping at some stage the breeze will shift so that we can stay on one gybe for a bit longer.”
They had a chance meeting with one of their opponents this morning, in an unbelievable match racing-style cross some 1,200nm from land.
“It’s crazy that we have to think about these things out here in the middle of nowhere,” laughs skipper Charlie Enright. “The boats are coming together and ridiculous speeds. Everyone’s eyes were wide open, and I’m glad we made it!
He pauses. “I think everyone will remember today for the rest of their lives. It was completely insane swapping gybes with not only MAPFRE, but a number of other boats. It was a fight to be in the same place at the same time, and that’s the result.”
Leg 5 (6,776 nm) Position Report (21:40 UTC)
1. Dongfeng Race Team, Charles Caudrelier (FRA), 2812.2 Distance to Finish
2. Team Alvimedica, Charlie Enright (USA), 2.0 nm Distance to Lead
3. MAPFRE, Xabi Fernandez (ESP), 9.4 nm DTL
4. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Ian Walker (GBR), 14.9 nm DTL
5. Team Brunel, Bouwe Bekking (NED), 16.5 nm DTL
6. Team SCA, Sam Davies (GBR), 186.8 nm DTL
7. Team Vestas Wind, Chris Nicholson (AUS), Did not start
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), began March 18 with an ETA of approximately April 4.