A lot can happen in a week at sea, and for the seven international teams competing in the first leg of the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race the last seven days have dished up one challenge after another.A week ago the fleet passed Cape Verde, a cluster of 10 islands 350 miles (570 km) off the coast of western Africa.
Four teams, lead by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, chose a safe path to the north of the island chain, Team Vestas Wind and Spain’s MAPFRE electing to go through the middle, leaving Dongfeng Race Team to go it alone to the south.
Dongfeng Race Team are going south alone around Cape Verde and maintaining the lead.
With one key decision made, it was time for another. How the fleet positioned themselves to enter the Doldrums, 400 miles of notoriously light winds north of the equator, where the northern and southern winds meet, a place where a sailing race can be won or lost in an instant.
Once again the fleet separated in three groups. Furthest east, Team Vestas Wind, and Spain’s Mapfre. Dongfeng Race Team, Alvimedica and Team SCA all opted for the middle, leaving Abu Dhabi and Team Brunel alone to the west.
Gerd-Jan (Team Brunel) explaining Doldrums,”Negotiating the Doldrums is always complicated, the aim, get through as fast as possible. Life at the Extreme, in these latitudes, means sweltering in 35-degree heat under a blistering sun.”
A key feature of any Doldrums crossing, dodging massive rain clouds that can eliminate whatever fickle wind that exists.
In the end, experience paid. Race veteran Ian Walker, in his third successive Volvo campaign, broke free first on Abu Dhabi Ocean Race.
Right behind them, Team Brunel, with Dutch skipper Bouwe Bekking, on his seventh lap of the planet with the Volvo Ocean Race.
Life onboard changed quickly, with increased wind speed came cooler temperatures and higher boat speeds. It was time to make some miles.
But for the rookies, it was no time to relax, the timeless ritual that goes with crossing the equator, upon them.
The next big event, rounding the island of Fernando de Noronha, 200 miles off the coast of Brazil, a compulsory waypoint in this first leg.
Ian Walker is going south. The fleet dive south into the trade-winds off the coast of Brazil, and life onboard takes on a new rhythm as the pace picks up.
The next big decision, head south for the Roaring Forties, or gamble on sneaking past the St Helena stationary High Pressure system in the South Atlantic.
But Life at the Extreme, on the Volvo Ocean Race, isn’t always just about the racing.