It’s been the best of times and the worst of times for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race fleet as it battles its way through the Southern Ocean toward home.
Alvimedica, with U.S. skipper Charlie Enright in charge, led the way past “Cape Stiff,” as the old-timers used to call it, on March 30, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam, Dutch-flagged Brunel and MAPRE hot on its heals.
Less fortunate was Chinese-flagged Dongfeng, which had been tied for first overall with Azzam when the fleet set out from Auckland on March 17, but was dismasted on the same day just hours before turning the corner.
“The mast broke without warning in about 30 knots of wind. We are unable to sail safely on starboard tack, but we are able to make reasonable speed on port tack,” reported Dongfeng’s French skipper Charles Caudrelier.
Although details as to the team’s immediate future and what went wrong remain somewhat murky, what is known is that the mast broke without warning above the second spreader and that the boat has diverted to the Argentinian port of Ushuaia at the tip of South America.
Caudrelier has yet to decide whether the boat will withdraw from the leg completely or try to effect the necessary repairs to carry on in the interest of still collecting some points that will go toward the overall standings
"I’m gutted. As you’ve seen from the position reports we have been, on purpose, backing off a bit, not attacking in any way,” Caudrelier said afterward. “It’s really hard for everyone, we were leading the race overall and this is a kick in the teeth. Hurts to think about the other teams still in full competition, still sailing.”
As for Swedish-flagged SCA, things were equally frustrating as the crew continued to limp through the Southern Ocean without its fractional Code Zero, which was damaged as the result of an out-of-control gybe. “We can’t take any more risk with the sails that are left because we need them on the way from Cape Horn to Itajaí,” said skipper Sam Davies, as she and the rest of the crew fell farther and farther behind. The good news is that once in the Southern Atlantic, the more moderate weather may allow her to get some miles back.
Meanwhile, at the front of the pack, life may be better, but it’s hardly a walk in the park, as the competition remains tighter than ever. As has been the case throughout this round-the-world regatta, the teams have often been in sight of one another, on at least one occasion crossing within mere boat lengths of one another even after weeks of racing. Despite the extreme conditions, the time differences are once again little more than what you would expect in an inshore buoy race.
Alvimedica and MAPFRE have a close crossing deep in the Southern Ocean
“This is pretty special for us,” Alvimedica’s Enright said on being the first to make the turn north, but he added that the race was far from over and there are no points for being the first round the Horn. “We can see Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing behind. The match-racing continues. Keep the focus!”
“I’m just happy to get here safely. That’s the main thing,” said Azzam skipper Ian Walker, who rounded the Horn a mere 15 minutes behind. “There is still a long way to go, but it’s a big relief. And it’s an even bigger relief because we’re in good shape.”
As for MAPFRE and Brunel a mere two minutes separate as they passed the iconic cape. Currently, the leaders are expected at the finish in Itajaí, Brazil, April 4-5. As tough as things have been in the Southern Ocean, the competition could get even more brutal between now and then.