The VOR fleet in Cape Town are currently preparing for their Southern Ocean blast to Melbourne

With two days left to prepare for one on the most gruelling legs of the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-06, the Southern Ocean stretch from Cape Town to Melbourne, the talk of the town, or dockside, is of extreme cold, icebergs and whales.

Mike Sanderson, skipper of lead boat ABN AMRO ONE summed up his thoughts on the leg which starts on 2 January, by saying: “It is a very windy, wet and wild part of the world. Throw in some icebergs, some growlers and a couple of Russian fishing fleets and it is an obstacle course which will provide for some interesting weeks and some very nervous times.”

The second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race sees the fleet swoop south heading through the Southern Ocean, destination Melbourne, Australia. Along the 6,100 nautical mile route there are two chances for the teams to pick up half the number of leg points when they pass scoring waypoints at the Kerguelen Islands, located midway between Africa, Antarctica and Australia, and Eclipse Island off the Western coast of Australia.

Due to the risk of the world’s fastest monohulls heading too far south into iceberg infested waters, two additional waypoints have been added. These will not allow for points to be picked up but instead are for safety. The boats are required to dip north at some point along the length of two imaginary lines, to prevent them getting too entangled with the ice.

Chief Executive of the Volvo Ocean Race, Glenn Bourke explains: “We have always considered sending the guys deep into the ice very dangerous. We always had it in our minds to put an ice waypoint in, which would bring the fleet north out of the predominance of ice. We understand that some may feel that this as an unwanted departure from the previous route but these boats are a lot quicker than they have ever been and can achieve 35 or even 40 knots of speed. This is a lot different impact than if they were doing 10-12 knots.”

Sanderson added: “We are pleased with the waypoint. It is easy to be 10ft tall and bullet proof when standing on the dock but you get down there and find icebergs the average size of Robben Island (off Cape Town) and then you think what an earth were we thinking when we were sitting there having a cold drink on the dock.”

There is a mixture or excitement and apprehension throughout the fleet. For many this is one of the best legs on the race course but it does also bring its risks as Ericsson skipper Neal McDonald describes: “You have to be realistic, no boat going offshore is 100 per cent – there is no such thing. These boats are more tactical, more complicated, faster, more powerful, lighter and less robust so I think we need to go into the Southern Ocean with a degree of caution. We will place a lot of pressure on ourselves due to our competitive nature to win these legs and to do well the boats need to be pushed pretty hard and that’s a fact of life.”

Movistar skipper Bouwe Bekking added: “It is a love-hate relationship with the Southern Ocean. It is really fantastic sailing and there is nowhere in the world like it, but at the same time it is extremely cold and that is the thing you don’t look forward to.”

Due to it’s nature, the Southern Ocean brings increased responsibility for the person in-charge of the boat, as Sanderson explains: “I always feel for the guys who have to hand over their little ones back to their wives and mums – that’s pretty heart wrenching to know that you are responsible for them and are taking them down to the Southern Ocean and going to be charging towards icebergs at 30 knots in the middle of the night with limited visibility.”

Sanderson and his team onboard ABN AMRO ONE are currently leading the race by two and a half points from Brasil 1 skippered by Torben Grael, but as Sanderson explains there is no time to be complacent: “We have some good nitty-gritty stuff coming up. Taking these beasts down into the Southern Ocean is going to be pretty hard core and is something we are taking very seriously and with some apprehension that we are heading off.”

With the boats capable of reaching 35 knots of speed and ABN AMRO ONE already breaking the world monohull speed record, recording 546 miles in 24 hours on the previous leg, leg two is guaranteed to be fast and frantic. In fact, the boats could reach Docklands Marina, Melbourne in as little as 15 days with the first boat predicted to dock around the 16 January.

Current leaderboard

1st TEAM ABN AMRO ONE, Mike Sanderson (NZL) 15 pts

2nd Brasil 1, Torben Grael (BRA) 12.5 pts

3rd TEAM ABN AMRO TWO, Sebastien Josse (FRA) 12 pts

4th Ericsson Racing Team Neal McDonald (GBR) 11.5 pts

5th Movistar, Bouwe Bekking (NED) 6 pts

6th Pirates of the Caribbean, Paul Cayard (USA) 5 pts

6th ING Real Estate Brunel, Grant Wharington (AUS) 5 pts