A look at the first week of the fifth leg of the VOR

Where has all the fun gone? – a month ago the VOR boats were blasting their way through the iceberg mine field of the Southern Ocean. Now there seems to be a bit of an anti-climax, despite the closeness of the racing

Don’t be fooled by the light airs – the wind may be light at the moment, but as history shows, this leg should never be taken for granted

Will Kostecki let it drop? – despite SEB’s immediate 720 degree turn following the port and starboard incident with illbruck, John Kostecki is questioning whether she has paid her penalty

With the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn out the way, it’s hard to get too excited about the fifth leg of the VOR with still 4,500 miles to go to the finish line in Miami. Having said that closeness of the racing which has seen illbruck, Tyco and Assa Abloy engaged in battle for the best part of the week, the fleet has experienced possibly some of the most testing conditions on the race so far. We also have to remember that, although the previous leg was fast, scary and exciting, the initial slower pace of this [fifth] leg is, in fact, in line with the average overall round the world race course wind speed of 15 knots!

With less than two miles between the leading three boats just one week after the start, crews are preparing for a tricky time ahead as they round the north-east tip of South America and enter the doldrum zone. Once across the equator, through the doldrums in to the North Easterly Trade Winds, the race order should sort itself out before the final stretch to Miami.

But it’s not necessarily going to be all ‘plain sailing’ and crews are well aware of the unpredictable conditions on this stretch of the course, particularly bearing in mind this was the leg during the 1993/4 Whitbread Race where the fleet had to contend with fierce headwinds which resulted in Chris Dickson’s boat, Tokio, losing her rig.

So far, however, the the conditions up the Brazilian coast are as expected with intense tropical heat, squalls and the inevitable, frustrating windless holes causing non-stop place changes throughout the fleet.

Following a lively first day at sea, which saw SEB clip the transom of illbruck during a tacking duel just off the coast within hours of the start, and News Corp taking a 23-mile lead after 24 hours in to the race and then losing it to Assa Abloy and dropping to second from last within the next 24 hours, things have begun to settle down.

Interestingly Team illbruck, who ended up in last position while she carried out repairs to the hole in her transom, soon returned to form and within two days had slotted in to her more usual position at the head of the fleet. Maybe now John Kostecki will alter his opinion about SEB’s 720 degree turn not being a sufficient enough penalty and retract his additional comment: ‘This incident has slowed us down and will haunt us this entire leg.’ Afterall, SEB’s relegation to last place immediately after the incident proves that’s she’s more than paid her penalty.