A look at the second week of leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race

Wow, what a week! The fourth leg in the VOR has to go down in the history books as one of the most nerve-wracking on record. Never before have competitors experienced so much ice, so far north in the Southern Ocean. For nearly a week crews have been living their lives on pure adrenaline as winds topped 50 knots, waves reached mind-blowing heights, and icebergs littered the race track like land mines. With so much mental and physical pressure over the last week, crews are beginning to feel the effects on their bodies. And despite their general overall fitness, nothing could have prepared crews for what they’ve just been put through. As well as the general overall physical exhaustion within the fleet, all the three helmsmen on On Amer Sports One are suffering with tendonitis due to the continuous repetitive strain caused by the constant battle between the waves and the wheel, in their quest to close the gap between themselves and the race leaders, illbruck.

While thankfully there has been no major injuries so far on this leg, it was with great sadness we had to report on the loss of SEB’s mast on Thursday morning. Having led the leg earlier in the week, SEB suffered a knock down while screaming downwind at 58 degree south. Although the boat righted herself immediately, the immense loads on the rig in the confused, mountainous sea, was too much and the mast snapped off 3ft above the gooseneck. A jury rig including an interesting mizzen mast arrangement has been constructed using a section of the broken spinnaker pole slotted over one of the winch drums. The boat is currently sailing at a speed of 8 knots towards Ushuaia in southern Argentina where she’ll stop off and either fit a new mast there or be transported by ship to Rio where her new mast will be waiting. Either way, time is tight and the question is, will she make it to the line in time for the start of leg 5? Even if they do succeed and are on the line ready for the start of leg 5, lack of recovery time after such a gruelling leg, will undoubtedly affect their performance from Rio to Miami.

While SEB was floundering around fixing a jury rig in the middle of the Southern Ocean, the rest of the fleet was also taking a battering from the worst of the conditions. Race leader illbruck desperately trying to retain her position, made the wrong decision on choice of spinnaker and ended up splitting two in as many hours.

The all-girls crew aboard Amer Sports Too managed to prevent a big wipe-out as a nasty squall hit just as they were about to drop their kite. As luck would have it, their steering cable broke on cue, forcing the boat to round up in to the wind. Quick thinking Katie Pennibone however, who was on the helm at the time, struggled to the other wheel and managed to resume control. The boys on Amer Sports One, who’ve been chasing illbruck for the best part of a week, have also been having their fair share of fun. “At one point,” said Paul Cayard, “when I was on the helm, two or three waves had come together to make mother of a wave. As we got up on it everyone’s eyes were huge – endless amounts of fun and the reason why I came to do this leg!” Despite the crew’s disappointment about leaving the yee-haa’ing, wave-leaping fun behind, at least the relatively lighter airs the fleet is experiencing at present, will allow those with injuries a chance to draw breath before the next battering.