As the fleet is forced south towards Cape Horn, conditions are pushing their limits after one month at sea…
It’s the final weekend in southern latitudes, in the waters the sailors in The Ocean Race call The Southern Ocean.
In these Furious 50s, the winds and waves are on a one way track from west to east around Antarctica, the continuous train of low pressure systems generating wind and waves that are the stuff of legend.
Cape Horn is where it all comes to a head: the land juts to the south and there is a shelf where the sea bed rises from 5000 metres to less than half that in Drake Passage to the south and to just a few hundred metres if you pass further north and closer to land.
This is where The Ocean Race IMOCA fleet is headed, the latest ETA is Monday afternoon/evening UTC.
The sailors are getting a final taste of the South this weekend, with winds a steady gale force 35 knots (65 km/h) and gusting to 45 knots (85 km/h).
On the race course, Team Malizia has edged out ahead of Team Holcim-PRB and Biotherm, with 11th Hour Racing Team sliding back over the past 36 hours. The spread from first to fourth is now over 100 miles, but as we’ve seen before in this leg, another compression is forecast with the leading boats expected to push into lighter wind around Cape Horn.
“We are now on the last long downwind sailing part, heading to Cape Horn, with the last low pressure system that will take us to the Horn Passage,” said Team Holcim PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier.
“We are still in contact with Malizia who are a little faster than us in these conditions. We knew that we had a versatile boat, and that they have a sailboat that is suited to this kind of conditions. Our strategy is to take it easy without trying to do something you can’t do with the boat.”
“We’re flying down the waves in 30 to 40 knots of wind,” screamed Will Harris on the deck of Malizia where he was tying in some lines to tidy up the reef in the mainsail. “Full speed. This is epic!! This is the true south. Albatross, 5 metres waves… whoop!!”
“Unfortunately, we’re bleeding miles to the others, being underpowered because we’re running with two reefs in the mainsail when it would be better to be on one,” said Charlie Enright on 11th Hour Racing Team, lamenting the damage to their mainsail that prevents them from sailing with a single reef.
“But we’re certainly in a better spot than after we passed through the scoring gate [to the south of Australia]. What the crew, and Jack (Bouttell) in particular, have been able to do and repair has been pretty amazing. We’re determined to eke out every ounce of performance from the boat, and it’s been cool to be racing within sight of the other boats. There’s 20 of us down here in this remote part of the world, and yes we’re rivals, but we’re also friends, we’re family. There’s a camaraderie between all of us, good banter on the radio, and it feels good for all of us to be down here together in this crazy part of the world.”
The forecast is for conditions to remain very strong over the weekend, with winds beginning to moderate on Sunday before easing significantly on Monday, leaving the possibility of a relatively easy passage of Cape Horn later in the day 27 March.
The latest news is at www.theoceanrace.com and you can follow sailing’s greatest round-the-world challenge on Eurosport with every leg departure live and on-demand on discoveryplus.com or Eurosport.com