Volvo Ocean Racing Outfit Hopes To Cut Leg 5 Deficit In Final Pacific Stages


The UAE’s Adil Khalid - the first Gulf national to take part in the global sailing odyssey, the Volvo Ocean Race – said rounding South America’s Cape Horn, widely regarded as the sport’s pinnacle achievement, would be like “climbing Mount Everest”.

Expected to reach the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile on Sunday as part of Leg 5 of the 39,000 nautical mile round-the-world race, Khalid, an Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew member, is only too aware of the daunting task ahead. As the heart of the centuries old clipper trading route, the rounding of Cape Horn is one of the most respected and notorious sailing milestones in history.

“This is it, my Mount Everest. When I look back at all the work that we have done to be here, it is amazing. More than 15 months ago, I was standing in Abu Dhabi waiting to find out if I had been chosen to be a part of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, now I am on the deck of one of the world’s most sophisticated race yachts with the world’s best sailors, thousands of miles from civilisation, in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments, and I can’t wait!” said the Emirati 23-year-old father-of-one.

“I know we haven’t even begun to see how angry the Southern Ocean can get. Some of the fleet has taken a battering so far and we still have a long way to go. For me, I am just getting my head down, doing the jobs in front of me, and praying that I get lucky.”

For the Emirati Olympian, just being in the legendary 6,700 nautical mile Southern Ocean race leg from New Zealand to Brazil is an achievement. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing set off on Leg 5 in commanding form only to have to suspend racing and return to Auckland the same day with a broken J4 bulkhead.

After a determined turnaround by the Abu Dhabi shore crew, the team – skippered by double Olympic medal winner, Ian Walker – rejoined the race and has been playing catch up ever since.

Currently in fifth position, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is set to take on the Southern Ocean without the safety net of the other teams being nearby. And as the home to the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, the name given to strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, the route is fraught with peril, as screaming storms, crashing waves and freezing temperatures are a regular threat.

Yet for Walker and his crew, conditions have been the opposite, with a rare high pressure system and resulting light winds plaguing the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority-backed outfit’s ability to catch up.

However, it appears that with the Southern Ocean taking its toll on the other teams, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has increased its chances of securing a podium finish. To date, Team Sanya has retired from the leg after suffering damage to its boat. CAMPER with Team New Zealand will also suspend racing as it pulls into Chile to undertake urgent repair work on its bow.

“We have the spinnaker up and are heading east along the ice wayline in about 10 knots of wind. So far, with the exception of the first day out of Auckland, we couldn’t have experienced a more different leg to the leaders. We have been praying for wind whilst I suspect they have been praying for the wind to drop much of the time,” said Walker, the British 42-year-old sailing veteran. 

“As any coaching manual will tell you the only thing we can do is ‘control the controllable’. We cannot control how the other teams perform or what happens to them. For us we need to make it to the eastern ice waypoint before the next front passes over us, then the hammer will be down all the way to Cape Horn. Hopefully we will soon stop losing miles and the fight back can begin.”

During this leg, the fleet will be further from safety than ever before, including passing Point Nemo, the world’s most remote spot, more than 2,000 nautical miles from land in every direction. Leg 5 is the longest passage in the race and is already living up to its high speed sleigh-ride sailing for which the Volvo Ocean Race is renowned.

Race-imposed safety waypoints are keeping the fleet north of the main areas of iceberg risk, but the extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean continue to test the nerve, skill and stamina of the crews to the limit.