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

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

Having spent three weeks licking their wounds in Auckland following leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race from Sydney, the VOR fleet set sail on the fourth leg last Saturday. Thousands of spectators lined the banks of Auckland’s harbour to bid farewell to the eight-strong fleet as they headed off along the Rangitoto Channel on their 6,700 nm race to Rio de Janerio via Cape Horn.

However, despite the carnival atmosphere in Auckland during the lead-up to the start, there was a distinct feeling of concern and trepidation lingering around the dockside as crews prepared their boats for what is undoubtedly the most challenging part of the race – the Southern Ocean leg via Cape Horn. It was difficult to find anyone not expressing their feelings about heading south and Mark Rudiger from Assa Abloy reflected the views of many when he commented: “For most of us, getting through this leg of the Southern Ocean, and around the Horn, is like reaching the peak of Mount Everest. It is the moment you want to savour, and then you want to get the hell out of there.”

After a brief 20-knot blaster from the startline out in to the Hauraki Gulf, it became a navigator’s nightmare once again with the fleet reaching a virtual standstill round the top of New Zealand. The aim was to track south as soon as possible in an effort to dodge the high pressure system that lingered over the east coast but it soon became a lottery as boats struggled to catch the zephyrs of breeze.

The Norwegian team aboard Djuice Dragons, noted for occasionally taking a flyer, lived true to form within the first two days of the race opting for a more easterly route inshore away from the pack and snatching the lead from News Corp. But in the tricky conditions where only a few miles separated the top seven boats, Tyco nosed ahead and took over pole position for the following 24 hours. But it was overall race leader, illbruck, with the slight speed edge who climbed the fleet in to the lead. Meanwhile, the all-girls team aboard Amer Sports Too were in their usual settled position in last place, this time suffering with ballast-moving problems. Lisa McDonald explained: “During the first 24 hours we couldn’t use the ballast and therefore had to hold on to the course longer than planned and we lost out quite a lot on the fleet.” But it wasn’t just the girls suffering with gear problems. Tyco, while lying in second place after two days at sea, damaged the roller furling unit. Thankfully however, Jan Dekker, the bowman, managed repair it just before the big winds hit.

But the proof of the pudding, to see whether the VO60s can really stand up to the Southern Ocean battering, will soon start to tell as they enter the 60knot wind, huge sea zone. They have already been giving a good pounding with more than their fair share of upwind work during the previous three legs but as the leading boats are pushed to the limit in the extreme conditions, it will be here, if anywhere that structural failures will occur.

For the top teams including illbruck, News Corp, Assa Abloy, Amer Sports One and possibly Tyco who are are all in with a chance of taking overall race honours, there will be no reprieve but those teams with little chance of claiming overall race victory including SEB, djuice dragons and Amer Sports Too, it will be interesting to see how far they push it in the unforgiving Southern Ocean.

The fleet is currently experiencing the first of the low pressure systems rolling in from the west and, while the beamy Frers-designed Amer Sports One powered off to a nine mile lead yesterday evening, News Corp remained on the southern side of the course and has taken the lead. However, there are still only four miles between the top two boats with illbruck just seven miles astern.