After a few days delay due to a strong cyclone presence the race is underway again as the race’s six-strong fleet finally headed out of Auckland this morning (Wednesday) after the Leg 5 departure was delayed 67 hours to avoid the worst of Cyclone Pam.
However, the crews, led out of the ‘City of Sails’ by Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA), knew they may have avoided the deadly weather system, but still face the toughest of all nine legs as they race through the notorious Southern Ocean.
“The conditions will be light early on, with coastal sailing up to East Cape (the tip of New Zealand), but after a few days it will be the full-on Southern Ocean regime,” said the race’s official meteorologist, Gonzalo Infante, shortly before departure.
“From then, the boats will be facing 25-35 knots of wind for much of the time until they round Cape Horn.” Cyclone Pam, which forced the postponement from Sunday until Wednesday having wrought havoc in the South Pacific and causing at least 11 deaths on Vanuatu, will no longer be a major factor for the fleet, added Infante.
Leg 5, the Southern Ocean leg from Auckland to Itajaí in south eastern Brazil, is 6,776 nautical miles (nm) long, will take roughly three weeks to complete, and is one major reason why many of the sailors in the fleet are competing in the Volvo Ocean Race.
It will take the fleet back into the Atlantic for the closing stages of the leg for the first time since November, but, memorably for most, they will pass Cape Horn in the Southern Ocean on the tip of South America.
Ever since the 17th century when it was first regularly navigated by trade shipping, Cape Horn has been an iconic landmark for all sailors although it has claimed many victims over the years.
The same leg caused havoc to the fleet in the last edition in 2011-12 with only winners Puma escaping serious damage and eventual event victors Groupama limping home with a jury rig.
Nevertheless, so many hardened Volvo Ocean Race sailors keep coming back for more with the massively experienced Stu Bannatyne (NZL) and Damian Foxall (IRE) being recruited for this leg by Team Alvimedica and Dongfeng Race Team respectively.
Some interesting facts about leg 5
Auckland, New Zealand to Itajaí, Brazil – 6 776 nautical miles.
• Epic leg. Leg 5 is to the Volvo Ocean Race sailors a dream, a challenge, the leg to sail and the one to dread. It’s the longest and most dangerous stage of the race.
• Halfway mark. Leg 5 marks the middle of the race in terms of legs, but it’s also the leg that sees the fleet back in the Atlantic Ocean and in to the second part of the race. We are a little bit under 100 days to the arrival in Gothenburg!
• Iconic Cape Horn. For any ocean sailor, passing Cape Horn is not just a race experience, but an adventure remembered for a lifetime. More people have reached the summit of Everest than sailed around Cape Horn. Waves can reach up to 30 metres, roughly the length of a Volvo Ocean 65 mast, and the only company the sailors have will be albatrosses.
• Survival and adventure. Leg 5 is by far the stage illustrating extreme sailing, but also the extreme adventure all sailors are taking part in. Dee Caffari said: “the furthest point from land you could be is in the Southern Ocean during Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race. We are the furthest from land and actually our closest human is in the International Space Station.”
• Extreme equipment. Survival and protection are only possible thanks to the gear the sailors are taking to sea. Ice limits are determined based on satellite info, survival training is compulsory, and extreme weather gear is taken onboard for this leg. The ultimate level of protection, the Musto dry suit, is a must for serious offshore sailing to extreme latitudes. It enables survival for two to three hours in water of 5°C.