The hammering continues for the six Volvo Ocean Race teams as they punch east through conditions likened to “riding a mechanical bull”.
"Imagine trying to stand on that mechanical bull while it’s going nuts. When you go forward of the dagger boards on a Volvo Open 70, above or below deck, this is what you have to look forward to” - NIck Dana, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
Although the wind speed has dropped to around 17 knots, huge waves still remain from the South China Sea monsoon that caused race organisers to delay the Leg 4 start by 18 hours.
At the 0700 UTC position report CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand held a three nautical mile lead over closest rivals Groupama sailing team as all six boats tried to find the balance of east and north routing needed to make the Strait of Luzon, the only waypoint on the 5,200 nautical mile leg to Auckland.
“Because there is a bit of current moving perpendicular to the wind, we’re dealing with a bit of side chop added to the sea state,” said Nick Dana, media crew member on fifth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
“Imagine riding a mechanical bull - it’s difficult for a variety of reasons. Its spins around unpredictable, it moves up and down, side to side and manages to heel over when you least expect it.
“Now imagine trying to stand on that mechanical bull while it’s going nuts. When you go forward of the dagger boards on a Volvo Open 70, above or below deck, this is what you have to look forward to.”
With just 35nm separating the entire fleet, life at the front of the pack is no different to life at the back.
“This is like sailing in a washing machine without the soap suds unfortunately,” said Tony Rae, helmsman on leg leaders CAMPER.
“A mix of current, wind and the fact we are right on top of where the ocean floor goes from 600 metres to only 200 metres, all combined to make a pretty messy confused ride. Not what I would call smooth sailing.”
From the back of the fleet, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG MCM Amory Ross reported similarly challenging conditions.
“Waves seem to come from all directions and there’s nothing to do but make sure you’re hanging on because you never see half of them.
“A Volvo Open 70 is designed to sail downwind, to reach at high speeds; shaped like a surfboard, our “flat-bottomed girl” aches with each flight and cries with each crash.
“As the breeze lightens further there’s talk of canting the keel to leeward to induce heel and help avoid the belly flops that make us cringe.”
The last time the fleet sailed through a similar area in the South China Sea in 2008-09 three boats suffered serious structural damage that almost knocked them out of the race.
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