At 1900 UTC tonight, Team Telefónica leads as the fleet racing in Leg 5 from Auckland receives the predicted battering just 17 hours or so in to the leg.
Earlier, the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had a harsh reminder that this race is no playground, when, only 40 nautical miles (nm) into the 6,700 nm course which takes the fleet around the infamous Cape Horn, damage forced the team to suspend racing and return to Auckland to affect repairs to their forward bulkhead. The team plans to re-start in about 24 hours.
According to weather experts, the already well-developed South Pacific low-pressure system to the north-east of Auckland is set to intensify as it moves towards the colder waters of the Southern Ocean. As the strong tropical depression moves south and east, it is blocking the route past East Cape with strong headwinds. This has caused the skippers and navigators to shy away from the traditional course across the Bay of Plenty and, instead of diving hard south, the fleet now reduced to five boats has headed north from Auckland to set up a better angle for heavy wind ahead.
Although nerves are on edge, there is always a sense of anticipation among the crews as they take on the longest and most difficult leg of the race. To sail in the Southern Ocean, where albatrosses and whales are the only company and where conditions in the harsh wastelands provide an adrenaline rush that cannot be found elsewhere is, for many, the sole reason for competing in this race.
“It is one of those things that you know is going to be hard, real hard, and there is no room for error, but if we can sail it, and sail it well, it will be a huge achievement,” sums up Hamish Hooper, media crew member onboard CAMPER.
At 1900 UTC, the fleet had tacked onto port and were battling headwinds of up to 29 knots, flying off six-metre waves. Telefónica led the fleet from CAMPER 4.4 nm behind, followed closely by Franck Cammas’ Groupama 4, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and Team Sanya who had led the fleet out of the Hauraki Gulf earlier today. The fleet was split 19.10 nm from first to last with speeds varying from 11.4 for Sanya and 12.9 for Telefónica.