Race for Brazil is on as toughest stage of Volvo Ocean Race gets underway
Abu Dhabi, UAE, 18 March 2015:Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR), the emirate’s entrant into the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), left New Zealand for Brazil today as the postponed fifth leg of the round-the-world yacht race got underway 67 hours behind schedule after a ferocious tropical cyclone cut a swathe of destruction through the South Pacific.
Race organisers pushed the start back from Sunday, first to Tuesday and then Wednesday morning, when the storm – officially codenamed ‘Pam’ – caused severe damage and multiple fatalities in the remote Oceanian island Republic of Vanuatu as it bore down on New Zealand.
Conditions had moderated considerably when ADOR - skippered by British double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker and backed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) – along with the other five teams in the race crossed the Leg 5 start line in Auckland at 0900 local time on Wednesday morning. Soon after the fleet left Auckland Harbour in 12 – 15 knots of breeze and flat seas, an incisive tactical call from ADOR navigator Simon Fisher to gybe before the other teams put Azzam in second place at the Auckland leaving mark, hot on the heels of main rival Dongfeng Race Team.
Ahead for the eight ADOR sailors and one on-board reporter lies the longest and toughest leg of the race so far – an almost 7,000 nautical-mile roller-coaster ride through the world’s toughest ocean landscape where vicious and fast-moving storms and mountainous waves circle the Earth’s lowest latitudes unhindered. Leg 5 will see ADOR negotiate the Southern Ocean and round the most notorious of Capes – the predominantly stormy Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America – before heading north past the Falkland Islands to the finish in Itajaí, Brazil.
“It’s the toughest leg and the one that most people identify the Volvo Ocean Race with,” said ADOR bowman Justin Slattery, who sailed with ADOR in the previous race when severe structural problems forced the team to pull out of the leg and make for Chile. “Last time I ended up hanging over the side of the yacht drilling holes and bolting the skins of the hull together. That’s an experience I don’t want to repeat.”
The screaming winds and icy wastes of the Southern Ocean leg is the biggest test faced by ADOR and its VO65 yacht Azzam, which means ‘determination’ in Arabic. Despite the dangers, Walker believes his crew have the skills and experience to turn in a strong performance – particularly when it comes to helming.
“Up until Cape Horn the emphasis will be on pace,” Walker said. “We are limited in where we can go by ice gates put in by the race organisers, so I don’t see any opportunities for any huge breakaways. That means it’s going to be about speed, pushing the boat hard and managing the boat when the conditions get very bad.
“We have a very strong line-up generally and we are especially powerful when it comes to drivers,” Walker explained. “That helps a lot when you are racing in strong winds and big seas because you can push harder and keep the boat moving at maximum speed for longer.”
To make best speed, Walker’s men will try to ride the fierce frontal storm systems that rake the lower latitudes of the planet driving fast-moving monstrously sized waves in their path.
“The trick is staying ahead of those storm fronts,” Walker added. “If you drop off the back of a front, then 10 miles can turn into 100 miles very quickly.”
Walker believes the most important factors on Leg 5 will be the crews’ abilities to handle their yachts in the strong winds and waves and also how well they look after the sails and equipment.
“Boat-handling and management of the boat are going to be absolutely vital,” he said. “If you destroy one of your key sails by pushing too hard and you don’t have it for the rest of the leg – that’s it, you’re done. The problem is, in this new generation of VO65s, we don’t yet know where the red line is – and worse still we probably won’t know until we cross it.”
According to ADOR navigator Fisher, the almost three-day delay has made the leg much more complex from a weather point of view.
“The first 48 hours will be challenging,” Fisher said. “We will have to deal with a number of different breezes meeting with the southerly wind left over from ‘Pam’, so it could be light and tricky. What happens in this period could well dictate our strategy later and any miles lost here could cost us badly further down track.
“Ultimately, we have to get down to the strong westerly winds in the south. How aggressively we will have to dive down to get them is yet to be seen, but once we are down there it will be time to batten down the hatches for the freight train ride across the Southern Ocean.”
There are several reasons Fisher believes this Southern Ocean leg is shaping up to be one of the toughest for many years.
“It has been a few races since we have headed this far south,” he said. “Sea temperatures will be as low as 2 degrees Celsius and as we are setting off later in the year than past races the winds will be stronger, and the storm systems will be moving faster. As we head into a Southern Hemisphere Autumn the weather gets more volatile and harder to predict. All-in-all this is shaping up to be one of the hairiest Southern Ocean legs we have seen for a long time.”
Leg 5 from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajaí, Brazil is forecast to take around 19 days to complete and the leaders are expected to finish around April 6.