Ice is a big worry for Olivier de Kersauson and the skippers of Around Alone, and behind them Ellen is at full speed

These are nail-biting times for the skippers and crews racing in the Southern Pacific Ocean. A few days ago, Olivier de Kersauson reported seeing an iceberg, although he was at only 53°S. He admits that this weekend has been a tense and nervous time and that he has altered course to the north-east to take him out of the dangers of the Antarctic Convergence Zone.

“It’s a bit worrying,” said de Kersauson. “You very rarely see [icebergs] this far north, except in years where there’s a lot of ice break-up. Coming across ice here with relatively high water temperatures of between 7 and 10° sent a bit of a chill up my spine, I can tell you. It’s a pretty alarming thing to happen, but sailing conditions are very unusual at the moment.

“To the north, there are cyclonic systems that we simply can’t go near and to the south, the weather systems are extraordinarily complicated. We’re being buffeted about between persistent high pressure regions and southerly depressions trying to move north. The result is uncomfortable seas, squalls and turbulent weather systems with fronts. If we’re going to get ice as well, we’ll have the full set!”

The report sent an even bigger chill through the the Around Alone fleet, which is heading for the same territory. They have been logging some big daily runs – over 400 miles yesterday in Bernard Stamm’s case – but hurtling along solo is a different category of risk to sailing south with the vigilance of a full crew. Worryingly, Stamm reported seeing an iceberg yesterday.

One of the skippers heading south is Graham Dalton, who wrote yesterday: ‘I have now switched on my radar that can detect the larger icebergs up to 15 miles away. At the speed I am sailing at now, this would be just over an hour’s sailing time. When the strong winds arrive and my speed builds to over 20 knots, I will have little time to take evasive action if one happens to be in my path….The constant anxiety associated with my chosen route and my concerns for the danger ahead is very draining.’

Meanwhile, Kingfisher 2 is reaching the longitude of Cape Town and into the fast downwind conditions of the Southern Ocean; she had a 567-mile day on Friday. Ellen reports today:

“Just come down from on deck after steering – its 5.00am and its light here. As we move east the daylight hours are changing. It’s amazing to be sailing such a powerful machine, just charging along… We’ve hardly got any sail up – 3 reefs in the main and a storm jib – in 40 knots of wind, sailing downwind. Boat just riding down waves incredibly fast.

“The waves are rather large but not aggressive so we are able to slide down them rather than get hit by them – just an amazing feeling. Feels good to be covering so many miles after covering so few in the early stages…

“Things are good on board – the sea is easier on the boat – we are averaging high speeds but not too violent motion on board. We can sleep more easily, cook, actually operate – before we were reaching in big waves and the motion of the boat was really violent.

“We have a full moon in the Southern Ocean – it’s so beautiful it’s hard to describe… Sailing along in the middle of the night and it feels like daylight – you can see everyone’s faces, see the spray, the waves – all lit up by the lightness from the moon – just fantastic…!”