Drama for movistar last night as Bouwe Bekking reported she was sinking as the VOR fleet heads towards the Great Cape 2/3/06

At 0315 GMT today, Bouwe Bekking reported that movistar was taking on water at a high rate and requested that the boats nearest to movistar, Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) and Ericsson Racing Team (Neal McDonald) should standby to offer immediate assistance. They were sailing in 30 – 35 knots of breeze with a jib top, small staysail and one reef in the mainsail, 242 nautical miles from the scoring gate at Cape Horn.

“We are sinking. Everybody up,” commanded Bekking as the water poured into the boat around the keel box. “Slow the boat down, the water is coming in very fast, and close the water tight hatches,” was the command.

The water was coming in from around the top of the keel box. Within minutes the sailors were knee deep in water. The water tight hatches were closed immediately and safety gear and grab bags moved onto deck. The sail area was reduced to only the stay sail and the yacht slowed down, as the crew frantically pumped.

Skipper of movistar Bouwe Bekking’s reported: “A sailor’s nightmare is sinking, and this looked like a pretty serious situation. If we had rats onboard they would have jumped off by now.

“We mobilised some people on deck to drop all the sails, and when I went downstairs again, I got a real shock. The generator box was already completely underwater, and the water had spread now through the entire mid compartment, and was close to washing over the main engine box as well. And what a mess inside, sails, sleeping bags, food bags, you can’t name it, were floating around. In the mean time Spike (Peter Doriean) had collected all the safety gear and put it on deck, just to be sure.

“Capey (Andrew Cape) had already informed race-headquarters. After seeing the amount of water, I decided to ask headquarters if other boats could assist. Water and electricity don’t like each other too much, so the circuit breakers were popping off all the time.

“With the personal torches on it looked like a scene that Hitchcock could only dream of. Now Chris (Nicholson) was diving underwater to connect the two emergency high capacity bilge pumps directly to the batteries, as that was the only way of assuring power and running of the pumps. What else do you do? Bail of course, like mad, but I felt it was like watching television where somebody is using one small water hose to protect his house against a raging bushfire. Even though we knew we were on the losing hand, strangely enough you don’t give up.

“Then the shout, PUMPS ARE RUNNING. Now we maybe have a chance to beat the incoming flow rate, and get the level down.

“To all our big relief, this was the case. Slowly but surely, the levels went down and we got the situation under control. We have made an emergency fix on the leaking box, and the incoming flow is minimal. I’m proud of the boys, they did well, not just in this emergency situation, but also in the way that they have sailed movistar so magnificently up to that moment. We are now heading for Ushuaia (Argentina) to look at damage.”

Bekking said in a radio interview this morning that the team is planning to make a stop in Ushuaia where they will have to make a huge reinforcement to the keel box and then carry on from there to Rio de Janeiro.

Elsewhere in the fleet, ABN AMRO ONE (Mike Sanderson) leads the chase towards Cape Horn, 62 miles ahead. Pirates of the Caribbean (Paul Cayard) is in second place, 28 miles behind Sanderson, followed by Brasil 1 (Torben Grael), ABN AMRO TWO (Sebastien Josse) and, bringing up the rear, Ericsson Racing Team (Neal McDonald).

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet are preparing to enter some of the most hazardous waters in the world, a place where the Southern Ocean is at its shallowest and the winds funnel at 40 knots. This is the exit of the Southern Ocean and the experience can be dramatic or benign, but whatever weather the wind gods decide to throw at the fleet this time, leaving the desolate wastes of Southern Ocean via Cape Horn to port, means many things to many people.

“Turning the corner at Cape Horn is a big psychological change. In some ways you look forward to it because a lot of the difficult conditions are behind you, I know for me, it’s also quite a sentimental moment, because the round the world race is really about sailing in the Southern Ocean and when you turn that corner, you turn your back on some of the best sailing that this available on the planet and it is the best sailing that I have ever done. And you never know if you will ever come back again. This could quite possibly be my last time. That is a huge icon of the race.” Paul Cayard, skipper Pirates of the Caribbean.

“Of all the landmarks, you would have to say that Cape Horn is THE one. It marks leaving the southern ocean and that is something people remember. Neal McDonald, skipper Ericsson Racing Team.

“It’s the Everest of sailing for a crew, like a graduation, another notch of experience to add to your belt and things that you have lived.” Guillermo Altadill (Ericsson Racing Team), rounding Cape Horn for his sixth time.

As the teams approach the massive Cape, 314 nautical miles ahead of leader ABN AMRO ONE (Mike Sanderson), a huge storm is brewing behind them. The front runners should reach the Cape ahead of it, but the back markers are anxious: “We think we will get around the Cape before it hits us, but if it does, then we really have to be on our guard, just for our own safety apart from the race. We’re taking the middle road right now and firming up our final approach plan at some time later today,” said Neal McDonald.

Movistar (Bouwe Bekking) and Captain Paul Cayard and his pirates on The Black Pearl are fighting cat and dog for the points on offer at the scoring gate. Neither team is giving an inch, which is, in turn putting pressure on Mike Sanderson who would rather sail ABN AMRO ONE a little more conservatively, maintain his lead and arrive in Rio de Janeiro in one piece. He’s having to sail faster and carry more sail than he would like in order to protect his 40 mile lead from the two thrusters who hunt him down with more wind behind them. Movistar leads Pirates of the Caribbean by just half a mile, squeezing past her in the last six hours. All but Ericsson Racing Team, who has lost another four miles, have made small gains on ABN AMRO ONE tonight.