CAPE TOWN – The Southern Ocean awaits. Those four words are enough to give pause to the crews in the Volvo Ocean Race, which are bracing for some of the harshest, most extreme conditions on the planet. They’ll get their first taste of the Southern Ocean in this edition on Leg 3, which starts Sunday from Cape Town and will stretch 6,500 nautical miles to Melbourne.
The crews took time out from preparations for Leg 3 when they sailed the Cape Town in-port race on Friday, with Dongfeng Race Team winning in spectacular conditions – 20 knots under bright, sunny skies.
Then it was back to steeling for life at the extremes.
The VOR is returning to the classic Southern Ocean leg from Cape Town to Melbourne for the first time in more than a decade. In the last three races (2008-09, 2011-12, 2014-15) the boats have headed from Cape Town around the Horn and then north to either India (2008-09) or Abu Dhabi (last two races) which has meant skipping the traditional route in the southern Indian Ocean.
The leg is 6,500 nautical miles, and none of them will be easy. Maybe that’s why double points will be on offer.
Bouwe Bekking, skipper of Team Brunel, sounded a warning.
“We should remember it’s late spring, beginning of summer and the winter has just passed in the Southern Hemisphere but the water is just bloody cold,’’ the veteran skipper said. “I think the most frightening thing is that the depressions are still so strong. If you’re getting hit by a depression and then you get front moving, you better brace yourself because just the amount of pressure that is in the air is humongous. And of course, the water temperatures – hopefully with the ice gates we don’t encounter any ice – but if the water is like a few degrees above freezing and you get a southerly breeze, you might be having icicles off the mast sometimes. We’ve experienced it in the past.... We did this leg in the old days. This is the leg when the most damage appeared. The boats are strong then we had before, but still things can break.”
No wonder this race is considered the nautical equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.
Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, called the double points “real interesting.’’
“I don’t think it’s really going to affect how we sail the race. You always try to go out and win the leg. I think the double points is just going to mean that people are disproportionately happy or sad when we get to Melbourne,'' he said.
“To finish first, you must first finish,’’ Enright added. “No one is going to win every leg. We’ve had two legs and two different winners. Consistency is what is going to win this but you always set out to win. I think we have a lot of experience on our boat and we have to trust that experience in the Southern Latitudes. We have some guys that can look at a cloud and say ‘it’s going to blow 45 in that one, not 25.’ Really helps the sail choice and stay in one piece.’’
In the in-port race, Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Dongfeng Race Team traded blows before the Chinese-French team grabbed the lead midway through the race and stretched away for their first win in the series.
The victory vaults skipper Charles Caudrelier’s team to second place on the leaderboard for the In-Port Race Series, just behind MAPFRE, which retained the overall race lead with a fightback second place finish on Friday. The In-Port Series results only come into play to break any ties after the 11th and final leg into The Hague next June.
"The team did a fantastic job, very nice boat handling and good speed, so well done to the full team," Caudrelier said.
Cape Town In-Port Race Results
1. Dongfeng Race Team
3. team AkzoNobel
4. Vestas 11th Hour Racing
5. Turn the Tide on Plastic
6. Team Brunel
7. Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag
Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Race Series Leaderboard
1. MAPFRE -- 19 points
2. Dongfeng Race Team -- 18 points
3. Team Brunel -- 13 points
4. Vestas 11th Hour Racing -- 12 points
5. team AkzoNobel -- 11 points
6. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag -- 6 points
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic -- 5 points