It’s been more of the same for the six remaining boats in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race fleet during the early stages of Leg 3: painfully light winds for the first 72 hours after the January 3 re-start in Abu Dhabi followed by yet more nail-bitingly close competition. Five days into the 4,600-mile leg to Sanya, China, the race remains essentially a dead heat with only a handful of miles separating first- and last place. Ahead lie multiple navigational and tactical challenges that promise to make this the most vexing and sleep-deprived leg yet.
“It may look very boring on the Internet, like everyone is sailing the same way, but when you’re on the boat, you’re getting little puffs, gaining 100 meters, and they make a huge difference in the long run,” says Team Brunel’s Andrew Cape. “We were last out of the Gulf, and we slowly worked our way back in second…. It’s good sailing. It’s tricky!”
“Out here on Leg 3, life is always changing,” agrees Team SCA onboard reporter Corinna Halloran. “You can’t get too comfortable. This is only the beginning, so it’s hard not to get too excited by the small gains, and on the flip slide not beat yourself up for the small losses.
Now that the fleet has successfully threaded its way through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the race is on to make the most of the seasonal monsoon winds after a couple of days playing the sea breeze off the Pakistani coast.
After that it’s hang onto whatever remains of the monsoon after rounding the southern tip of India and head for the dreaded Malacca Strait, the narrow body of water that separates Sumatra from Malaysia. Commercial traffic, unmarked fishing nets and fishing boats, and even the occasion pirate—this bathtub-warm body of water has it all. In the words of VOR meteorologist Gonzalo Infante: “Malacca is a very random place with a generally light wind. The Equator is not far and there are a lot of navigation hazards. The seabed is not fixed, and the navigation charts are not very good in the area. Lots of traffic, lots of land breeze too: every day in Malacca is different! Having sailed there before can actually play against you.”
At the east end of the Malacca Strait is yet another bottleneck, the Strait of Singapore, after which the fleet heads north across the South China Sea toward Sanya—where the competitors will likely face upwind sailing and some serious chop much of the way, possibly even boat-breaking conditions. This is a part of the world that has certainly played havoc with various Volvo boats in years past.
Meanwhile, back on shore, Team Vestas is now desperately trying to get its boat back in shape after salvaging the hull and rig of the reef where it ran aground a couple of hundred miles off Mauritius in the middle of the India Ocean. Best-case scenario at this point is rejoining the fleet in Lisbon for the final two legs of the race.
“We got the boat off the reef in better condition than we thought possible,” says Team Vestas skipper Chris Nicholson. “There are large portions of the deck that can be reused—70 to 80 percent—and a lot of other components within the structure. We’ll rebuild our boat just as we rebuild our hopes and dreams.”
Of course, hopes and dreams aside, whether or not rejoining the race will actually be possible remains an open question. A new Volvo Ocean 65 typically takes at least eight months to build. Team Vestas is aiming to effectively do much the same in about half that time.
First stop for Vestas Wind is Malaysia, where it will undergo a more detailed assessment than was possible out on the reef. After that it will be transported to Bergamo, Italy, for the repairs themselves. We’ll see how the team fares. Clearly, the next few months are going to be busy ones for all involved!