As fleet heads towards Cape Horn it has been a cold and brutal 48 hours

The following are reports from the Volvo Ocean crews as they head towards Cape Horn?

ERICSSON 3: received 16.03.09 1250 GMT
Aksel Magdahl – navigator

Another day in the Ericsson 3 office. Not an average day, but one of maybe 30 in this race where we sail on the borderline of what boat and crew can take. We are hanging on the back of the powerful low pressure system that moves with us towards Cape Horn. The weather forecasts do not describe the situation particularly well; the latest satellite picture show that we are much closer to the centre of the low than anticipated.

As I am writing this, the wind speed average over the past hour has been 38 knots. 46-50 in the gusts, and they are frequent. Just before I got up from my bunk I noticed 56 on the instrument by the nav station. The sea was almost blown flat, it felt nice down below. I think this is a record wind speed for Ericsson 3 so far. We have throttled back completely, furled the headsail and are sailing with a bottom-reefed main only. Reaching along making 18-20 knots. We will hoist a small staysail when the breeze and sea state settles down a bit.

After a period of terrifying conditions like this, the guys on deck become very conservative for a long time. So I sometimes take the role of ‘pusher’, saying that it is time for more sail area. A bit before it actually is, so that we can be ready when the time comes. It is not the most popular thing to do at these moments.

Every hour, the main sheet trimmer comes down next to the nav station to rub some heat back into their hands again. Most of us have brought two pairs of gloves. One you can actually do stuff with on deck, and one warm. None of which goes well with the computer keyboard, but that is a small problem. I just found my HH hat in a pit of water in the bilge.

The boat’s movements are violent, and one can feel how she twists in every wind gust or when landing after launching off a wave.

The radar is searching for ice, but in these conditions the whole screen is covered in rain and swells. We have also kept a look out for the Portimao Global Ocean Race Class 40 boats that we just passed. I am sure it would be disappointing for one of the shorthanded sailors to be woken up by a VO70 surfing into their cabin.

TELEFÓNICA BLUE: received 16.03.09 1217 GMT
Bouwe Bekking – skipper

We have been lucky so far, no major gales in this part of the world yet. In the previous races there were always one or two big storms, which we had sail through, but it looks like this time not too bad. That is one thing that has changed with these boats, you are actually looking for an area of not more than 30 knots of wind, as otherwise the sea state is a problem to keep high average speeds.

All the guys are now looking forward to get around this famous landmark, and getting out of here. It hasn’t been too bad temperature wise, but I think for some this is already cold enough. The heater has played up today and David (David Vera) was more than happy to spend the entire afternoon downstairs to try to get it going again. It is nice down here when it is up and running and sleeping is way more comfortable, especially since it seems you don’t need to pee so often. When you are cold, most of the guys have to pop up after two hours. A tough choice, stay in the warm bed, but nearly impossible to sleep, or get out. Put your boots on, and find a bucket or bailer and do your business. Then back to bed and sleeping is your reward.

The heater was running for a couple of hours but has stopped again; tomorrow is another day to have a look at it. Most likely again a hammer job, and a bash on the fuel pump, which was the fix this afternoon, (after David had the entire thing apart and still not running).

GREEN DRAGON (pictured): received 16.03.09 0507 GMT
Ian Walker – Skipper

It’s been a fairly brutal 48 hours with winds consistently over 30 knots made up of cold air from the south. Add to this some very confused seas and it has been a perfect recipe for breaking boats, masts, sails and people.

We sailed a slightly conservative line to avoid the peak winds of the low pressure and have throttled back on several occasions as the slamming of the hull became intolerable. This will cost us precious miles, particularly as we are first to fall off of the system, but it is a decision I am happy with. Deep in the Southern Ocean 1000 miles from anywhere is not the place for hoisting the ‘hero’ flag.

Boat and crew remain in good shape and now that the wind is under 30 and the seas have flattened off we are able to hoist the spinnaker and push on again. It feels like this leg is nearly over but we still have 3000 miles to go and we need a boat in full working order.

Life onboard has improved in the last 12 hours with the conditions, but nobody will be sad to turn the corner and head north. Most clothes are wet, sleeping bags are damp, the boat is full of condensation so there is little reprieve down below.

There is little comfort in what food we have and emails from home or news from the outside world are the only things to break the monotony. There is noticeably less chat amongst the guys as everyone is in survival mode just personally trying to get through the next few days.

It looks like the elements are saving one last strong throw of the dice in the shape of more gale force winds, which will hit us just before the Horn. We will remain cautious and respectful of where we are in the world and the boat we are in. That is the way we are going to get to Rio fastest.