VELUX 5 OCEANS SKIPPERS TO TAKE ON MIGHTY SOUTHERN OCEAN IN SECOND SPRINT
7,000 nautical mile sprint from Cape Town to Wellington starts on Sunday
If the first ocean sprint from La Rochelle to Cape Town wasn’t hard enough, the VELUX 5 OCEANS is about to get a lot tougher. Howling winds, freezing temperatures, mountainous seas and icebergs await the five ocean racers as they leave the comfort of Cape Town and head into the bleak expanses of the Indian Ocean bound for Wellington in New Zealand. It is here they will encounter some of the worst weather conditions known to man – and they will face them alone. More than 7,000 nautical miles, and countless obstacles, lie between the skippers and their next port of call.
Sailing through this section of the world has been the downfall of many a skipper in the 28 years of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. In the 1994 BOC Challenge French solo sailing legend Isabelle Autissier’s yacht Ecureuil Potiou Charentes II was dismasted and later severely damaged south of Australia in horrendous conditions. Autissier was rescued but her yacht was never recovered. Twelve years later British solo sailing veteran Mike Golding carried out a heroic rescue of fellow competitor Alex Thomson deep in the Southern Ocean following keel failure on Thomson’s Hugo Boss. Golding’s Ecover was then cruelly dismasted 1,000 nautical miles from Cape Town just six hours after rescuing Thomson.
One man who knows firsthand the dangers and challenges that lie ahead for the ocean racers is VELUX 5 OCEANS race director David Adams, a veteran of two editions of the race and winner of class two in 1994 event, then known as the BOC Challenge. “Ocean sprint two is probably the most physically demanding,” David explained. “It’s a very tough leg. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s wet, the sea is a nasty green colour and it is ferocious. For the whole sprint these sailors will be down in the Roaring Forties and the Screaming Fifties.
“It’s a very daunting challenge, but it is also the reason you do this race – good speeds, big surfing waves and the weather is behind you pushing you where you want to go. There are the high points and the low points but then there’s this whole other factor to content with: the ice. There are icebergs out there but nobody really knows where they are. You’ve got to be watching all the time, and that’s a real problem.”
After setting sail from Cape Town on December 12, the fleet of Eco 60s will head further south into the Southern Ocean, characterised by giant depressions capable of delivering hurricane force winds and waves the size of buildings. The constant crashing of the boat means little if any sleep for the skippers, and the violent seas ensure nothing onboard, however well stowed, is left dry.
To minimise the risk of sailing through the most dangerous iceberg-littered section of the Southern Ocean, the fleet must stay north of the Kerguelen Islands, a desolate archipelago midway between South Africa and Australia. But with the reduced danger of ice come more problems.
“It’s not so much the wind that is the problem, it’s the size of the seas,” David said. “If you happen to get to the Kerguelen Islands at the wrong time, when there’s a low pressure system, it’s really nasty. You’ve got this ocean that is up to four miles deep and then you get to the Kerguelen Islands and it goes to 100 metres. The waves just stand up like four or five storey buildings just coming right for you. You just listen to the roar of the waves as they are coming and you just have to work with them.”
After rounding the Kerguelen Islands the racers will then dip south again to pick up the strongest winds to power them to Wellington. “Sometimes it will be blowing so hard that even with no sails up whatsoever the boats will be doing 10, 12, maybe 15 knots,” David added. “Getting through ocean sprint two is a real skill – it’s all about risk management. The really skilful guys will know when to push hard and when to ease off and just get through the weather systems.”
Another safety gate below Cape Leeuwin, the most south-westerly point of Australia and the second of the Great Capes, will keep the fleet out of yet more danger from icebergs. A timed run between longitudes 50 East and 75 East will test the skippers’ speed and provide an opportunity to win bonus points.
Just when the skippers are within touching distance of Wellington and the finish line they will be faced with Cook Strait, the bank of water between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. A natural wind funnel, Cook Straight is prone to localised storms making it a formidable gauntlet for yachts to pass through.
Ocean sprint two starts from Cape Town at 2pm local time (12pm UTC) on Sunday, December 12.