Southern Ocean crash and burn

MAPFRE pulls into the lead in the Volvo Ocean Race as boats close on ice limit

Wednesday March 25th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Overnight there has been a lead change in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Team Brunel came out on top after the light winds the fleet experienced exiting the high pressure on Saturday. From four miles ahead Bouwe Bekking's team had pulled out a 20 mile lead by the end of the day and sailing into better breeze and this had grown to almost 50 miles by the end of Sunday by which time the Dutch VO65 was back into 20+ knot WSEerly winds.

The wind veering into the WNW on Monday left the boats sailing dead downwind resulting in it becoming 'gybing day' - both intentional and unintentional.

Yesterday there were reports of Monday's considerable rock'n'roll among the boats, with four (all but Team Brunel and Abu Dhabi) suffering Chinese gybes over a 12 hour period thanks to the combination of a post-frontal sea state and winds gusting to 40 knots.


Dongfeng Race Team was the first to reveal what had happened. On board reporter Yann Riou described it: “Quite a few of us had never done one before, and we had to wait until we were on a Chinese boat to do it…” And before, at the start of a very dark night – “30 knots of wind, very dark, shifty, gusts. Very difficult to drive now.. "

“Anyway: Pitch black night, boat ends up heeled on its side, and took two to three hours to put everything in order again. About 300 litres of water inside the boat via the aft air vent, then via my bunk, my sleeping bag and finally the entire boat.

"With what was the windward air vent open, once the boat was pinned down on the wrong side, the water will have come straight in to the boat. There are dinghy style hatch covers that can be screwed in place – but equally they are there to let the air in to the fresh air starved interior of the boat, and its not often that you expect the windward side of the boat to be under the water in this way. We suspect some other damage has been done as the boat since has been sailing higher than expected, so they may have needed to change sails – or simply sail a bit more conservatively than before."

Chinese crewman Black admitted: “It felt like I was on the Titanic when that happened. I kept thinking ‘no, it’s going to be bad’. But I calmed down quickly. Hopefully, it’s not going to happen that often, otherwise I’m not sure if my heart is strong enough”

During her Chinese gybe (in 39 knots of wind) MAPFRE tore her fractional Code 0 and sustained mainsail damage. Rob Greenhalgh said: “It’s not very funny, but it was obviously pretty breezy, big waves, just coming down a big wave, nose went in. And that’s it, out of control and into a gybe, laid on its side. Not too much damage: tore the J2 (headsail), damage to the main, obviously lost a load of miles in the process. Licking our wounds now!”

Francisco Vignale, OBR said: “We were on deck and it was me who was closest to the water. Xabi grabbed my jacket and helped me get out of this terrible situation. Inside the boat, the situation was not very good either. The members of the crew who were sleeping, were crushed between their bunk and the deck. A situation quite uncomfortable for those with claustrophobia”

Team SCA suffered one at around 0500 UTC yesterday. OBR Anna-Lena Elled reported: “We ended up on our side for maybe two to four minutes before slowly getting back in the right position."

The girls' VO65 sustained the most damage blwoing up their Fractional Code 0, tearing their mainsail, dropped half the stack overboard (but presumably recovered).

Dee Caffari said: “It’s all going be good. Everyone is safe, the boat is safe. We just have a damaged sail. That, we can live with. Everyone did a good job." Abby Ehler added: "We’re moving in the right direction, very slowly. We’ve got to run some checks, we’re working on getting the stack back onboard and tidying up the mess. But all good."

Image below (click to enlarge) courtesy of Expedition and Predictwind

Since Monday's carnage there has been a re-shuffle of the fleet laterally across the race course. Unfortunately for Team Brunel they left their gybe north too late and by the end of Monday second placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had closed back up to 10 miles astern of them. The repositioning on the race course left Brunel furthest north, with Abu Dhabi immediately south of her, Team Alvimedica and Dongfeng Race Team in the middle of the course with MAPFRE furthest south and Team SCA bringing up the rear.

Yesterday the wind had once again backed into the southeast allowing the northerly boats to lay the northernmost part of the iceway point gate that last week got moved north once again - up to 51°S between 115-120°W - after a 1km long iceberg was spotted in the path of the boats by the race's consultants CLS. CLS is able to monitor the location and movement of bergs via the use of satellite images although this giant berg must have somehow been overlooked prior to the start of leg 5.

Over the course of last night the southerly course of MAPFRE has paid off and as the boats in the north had suffered with the wind going light as a decaying front crosses them, the Spanish team has managed to stay in the breeze for longer (although this situation may reverse today).

MAPFRE should pass the western end of the most northerly part of the ice gate this evening ready for the arrival of the next front tomorrow night.

Matt Knighton reports from on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing:

As we push further east, the sun is setting earlier and earlier making our days in the warm sunlight shorter and shorter. Even so, between the cold air, the hailstorm, the bright crescent moon overhead, and the 24 knots of boat speed all happening at once tonight – it would have been a normal evening in the Southern Ocean if it weren’t for the dark fin on the horizon.

We’re now more than halfway between New Zealand and Cape Horn – one of the remotest places on the planet – and Alvimedica is only 2 miles away to leeward.

Earlier in the race we enjoyed having other teams within AIS range; it gave us a benchmark to learn from. Today it was hellish. We were sailing a lower mode most of the day trying to cheaply get up to Brunel’s northerly line anticipating a shorter transition period through a weak front we’re currently entering. Then Alvimedica roared into sight only 5 nm behind at lunchtime. By the afternoon they had closed the gap to 1.5 nm. Focus shifted.

There are few tricks up your sleeve going downwind in heavy seas to try and go faster. It’s mostly sail selection and driving and so to fend of Alvimedica’s advance we stopped our northerly soak to match their speed. Since then we’ve stopped the bleeding and drawn even.

It will be a trying 5 days to Cape Horn if they’re in sight the entire way. Fortunately Brunel has crossed us only 20 nm ahead – a lead we’re expecting will compress in the next day as the rest of the fleet plow into each other.

Ian just woke up for his watch. His breath visible in the red light down below he joked, “Remind me why we do this sport again?” Pause. Rubbing his hands together for heat, a response echoed from the racks, “It’s fun.”

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