Volvo Ocean Race Returns to the Southern Ocean

After months of battling tropical calms, and bouncing back and forth across the Doldrums in no less than three different oceans, it’s time for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race to return to its stormy roots. As in races past, Leg 4, which stretches 6,776 miles from Auckland to Itajaí, Brazil, will push the six competing crews to the limit and then some as they battler their way through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

After months of battling tropical calms, and bouncing back and forth across the Doldrums in no less than three different oceans, it’s time for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race to return to its stormy roots.

As in races past, Leg 5, which stretches 6,776 miles from Auckland to Itajaí, Brazil, will push the six competing crews to the limit and then some as they battle their way through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn.

Indeed, as a kind of precursor to what lies ahead, the scheduled start date this Sunday has been pushed back to Tuesday, March 17 at the very earliest, because of tropical cyclone Pam, currently spinning through the Pacific to the north of New Zealand. (The inshore race is still scheduled to take place in Auckland harbor on Saturday the 14.)

Further complicating things is the fact that the standings couldn’t be tighter. Once upon a time, two boats crossing the line within hours of one another in an ocean race was considered a photo finish. Now boats finishing within mere minutes of one another has become routine, with teams trading positions almost until the moment they get a gun.

At the close of the first leg in Cape Town, South Africa, for example, it very nearly looked like Donfeng would pip Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam at the post as the two chased cats paws within a mile of one another at the entrance to Table Bay. After that, it was a three-way contest between Dutch-flagged Brunel, Dongfeng and Azzam as they all maneuvered to be the first through Strait of Hormuz on the way to Abu Dhabi.


Leg 4 Finish Highlights

Then there was Leg 4 with the first three boats—Spanish-flagged MAPFRE, followed by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Donfeng—all finishing within nine minutes of one another, and Alvimedia, with U.S. skipper Charlie Enright in command, crossing little over an hour after that. The delta from first to last for the entire six-boat fleet after 5,648 miles and 20 days of all-out racing? A mere seven hours.

It’s fast reaching the point where, the inshore races—scored as a completely separate series in this installment of the VOR—are beginning to loom large as possible tie-breakers should any two teams have the exact number offshore points when the fleet finally arrives in Gothenburg, Sweden this summer.

Looking ahead, one of Leg 5's most dangerous elements is the presence of ice, which means you’ve got to stay north of the 40 degrees south latitude. But of course, that means having to deal with tropical systems like Pam. This can make for especially dicey conditions, because low-pressure systems travel so fast in the South Pacific they have a big impact on the sea state. The swell has no fixed direction and it’s difficult to direct your boat to keep it from being damaged. Of course, temperatures are freezing down in the Southern Ocean and relative humidity is close to 100 percent, so everything is cold and wet for days on end.

Approaching Cape Horn—which is separated from the northern tip of Antarctica by a mere 500 miles—the worst-case scenario is a ripping northwesterly, because the nearby Andes Mountains can increase its strength creating true survival conditions. After that, in the relatively tame waters of the South Atlantic, the goal is to stay close to the Argentinean coast, hooking onto the westerlies as long as possibe, before getting into the variable weather caused by South Atlantic High. After that, look for another grueling, sleep-deprived dogfight (or dog fights) to the finish if any of the boats are still in contact with one another at this stage in the leg.

Of course, in a leg like this there’s always the question of possible breakdowns. In preparation for the Southern Ocean, a number of teams are loading up on some extra veteran talent. Alvimedica, for example, has brought on New Zealander Stu Bannatyne, who’s already doubled Cape Horn seven times, while Dongfeng Race Team has brought aboard Irish sailor Damian Foxall, who was part of the winning Groupama crew last time around. Nonetheless, all it takes it a single failed fitting or a weak patch of laminate to bring down a mast or compromise a hull. The overall standings could look very different from how they look now in a few weeks.

Related

02-'17-Trans-Atlantic_Downwind-Schralpin

At The Helm: Man Overboard!

Imagine this simple scenario: the boat’s powered up, sailing close-hauled in a building breeze under full sail. I come on deck as the skipper during the watch change to make sure the new crew is comfortable and the boat is properly set up for both the current conditions and ...read more

Promo-01-LEAD-MGR00321

Contrasting X-Yachts & Moody Cruisers

One of the most fascinating things about sailboats is the different ways that sailors, naval architects and builders will approach a single design problem. The result has been a bewildering array of rigs and hull forms over the years, and in the case of the two boats we’ll be ...read more

04-Yacht-anchored-in-front-of-one-of-Lastovo's-gunboat-tunnels-(3)

Cruising Charter to Croatia

As is the case with so much of the Mediterranean, to sail in Croatia is to take a journey through time. Centuries before the birth of Christ, Greeks traded amphoras of oil, wine and grain across these waters. During the first millennium, the Romans built lavish palaces and ...read more

m123728_13_01_171012_PMA_02901_9999

Alicante Announced as an Ocean Race Europe Stop

The Ocean Race Europe, a new event in offshore sailing, will include Alicante as one of four stopover cities. This European offshoot of the former Volvo Ocean Race will include the biggest change to the racing rules under the new title—fully crewed IMOCA 60s will join the ...read more

01-LEAD-doublehanded2

Preparing for a Doublehanded Race

A few months ago we took a look at the development and attraction of doublehanded racing (Two to Tango, June/July 2020). Hopefully, that served to whet your appetite. If so, the question becomes: “How do I get started? The good news, as we explained in Part 1, is that if you are ...read more

01-LEAD-Day-three---dolphins.-300-dpi

A Key Approach to Passagemaking

How you approach offshore sailing is key to the success of each passage. In addition, some of the most valuable, even crucial attitudes and skills may not be either learned or valued in everyday life on shore and may even fly in the face of talents that are greatly admired and ...read more

OceanVoyagesInstitute-2048

Point of SAIL: Mary Crowley of the Ocean Voyages Institute

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, a not-for-profit based in California that has been both educating sailors and working to preserve the health of the world’s ocean ...read more

01-Ocean-Voyages-Institute_PHOTO-READY_1_pg

Tracking and Catching Plastic Waste

Plastic waste—in the form of everything from plastic soda bottles to abandoned fishing nets—constitutes a major threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Giving the immense size of an ocean, though, actually finding all the plastic floating around out there in a time-efficient ...read more