Battle has commenced: 6,705 miles of sailing between Auckland (New Zealand) and Itjaí in Brazil. Early this Sunday morning, 01:00 UTC, the starting gun for the fifth leg in the Volvo Ocean Race was fired. This is the leg that each and every sailor wants to race, the leg that takes the boats down to the inhospitable Southern Ocean, down to the latitudes where the 'roaring forties' and the 'furious fifties' blow, and this is also where the fleet will round sailing's legendary Cape Horn, signalling a return to the Atlantic Ocean. “All of us are here for the Southern Ocean sailing, because if not we'd stick to Olympic sailing”, confirmed skipper Iker Martínez minutes before the starting ceremony kicked off at Auckland.
Once more, the New Zealanders responded en masse to the call of the Volvo Ocean Race, with hundreds of boats and huge crowds turning out to bid farewell to the fleet. It was a shame that this stopover had been just a week in length.
The bay at Auckland threw up a strong start, with winds of 15 to 20 knots for the fleet's farewell. “From the starting line itself we'll have over 20 knots and once we're out of the bay that'll increase. We already saw yesterday that turning cartwheels in here isn't easy, so we'll have to deal with that to start with, just to warm up”, said Iker from the quayside.
It was a fitting starter for the main course that will be served chilled during the first 24 hours of the leg, with a battering for the boats expected as soon as they leave Auckland: “We've got upwind conditions as soon as the leg starts with some pretty strong winds. Starting a leg like this is always tough for any crew member, as the body needs some time to adapt to the new situation and there won't be much of that... So we'll be banging around at the start, just like we did on the previous leg”, said the Basque skipper.
Mike Sanderson, an Auckland native and skipper on “Team Sanya” displayed his expert knowledge of the bay as he lead the first steps around the buoys laid out by the organisers to mark the beginning of racing on this fifth leg. “Telefónica” made a good start and negotiated the various significant wind shifts, some of them up to 30º. The boat reached the first mark in third place, just a minute behind the Chinese boat and rounded the second mark in fourth, climbing back into third at the next mark and staying in that position for the fourth and fifth marks before setting an open course out to the Southern Ocean.
The three “young'uns” on board face their first rounding of Cape Horn
This is a special leg for everyone, but it's perhaps even more special for bowman Antonio “Ñeti” Cuervas-Mons (30), fellow bowman Australian Zane Gills (29) and the team's MCM, Diego Fructuoso (30). These guys are the three youngest members of the crew and they will be heading further South than they've ever been and will venture into the waters around Cape Horn for the very first time in their lives.
Despite the fact that this is his second round the world regatta: “I was unlucky enough to miss out on this leg in the last edition because we had some pretty significant boat damage in the Philippines”, says Cuervas-Mons, this time he's set to actually lay eyes on the cape of capes: “I'm really looking forward to getting to the Southern Ocean and to experiencing the ride down there that everyone talks about, and to see what it's really like”, said the sailor from Santander as he waited to get back onto the boat. “All of my colleagues have told me about the conditions in the Southern Ocean and down at Cape Horn and they've said that it's tough and very cold... but that at the same time it's very exciting and beautiful. They say I'll love it, so I'm really looking forward to getting down there”.
If the forecasts come good, the fleet may reach Cape Horn in ten days or so. It'll be worth keeping an eye on exactly when and how the Spanish boat rounds the legendary cape because it's sure to be quite an event on board.
Iker: “After this leg we'll all have a much clearer idea of who has a chance or not at winning this regatta”
They've been doing so since the first leg and now with a total of 122 points on the scoreboard, “Telefónica” is leading the overall provisional standings, currently with a 15-point lead on French boat “Groupama” who won the fourth leg just one week ago, snatching second place on the leader board from “Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand”.
30 points are in play and this leg will be very significant in terms of what may happen in the overall standings. An example of that are the words of the “Telefónica” skipper, who stated: “It's impossible to know for sure yet, but I am certain that after this leg we'll have a much clearer idea of who has a chance or not at winning this regatta”.
Early hours, first tacks
The early hours of the new leg are working the “Telefónica” crew hard and with each report news that the Spanish boat is managing to be one of the fastest in the fleet is coming in.
Constant tacks have punctuated the early hours of racing, with “Abu Dhabi” suffering bow damage and being forced to return to port at Auckland, temporarily suspending racing for the team.
According to the 13:00 UTC position report, the fleet is sailing with high winds of up to 28 knots and the boats are bunched up with the top four within 2.3 miles of each other on a northeasterly course with “Telefónica” logging average speeds of 12.1 knots.
Iker Martínez, skipper
The start of the leg will be very important because the first boat to get to the high speeds will be the one to gain the most ground over the others, so it will be interesting.
After the upwind hauls at the start of the leg until we get some strong downwind breeze there will of course be a transition, so that's surely going to be tactically fairly complex. After we've got through all of that it'll be time for the southern stage of the leg where we've been forecasted lots of wind from behind, so it looks like it's going to be a very, very tough leg.
Antonio “Ñeti” Cuervas-Mons, bowman
It looks like we're going to be going into some pretty strong headwinds for the first 24 hours, but we've had some training for that on the other legs. Then we'll be doing some tough reaching and then we'll have to pass through a transition to reach the westerly winds and the low pressure. One of the keys will be not breaking anything, as it's going to be pretty tough and to be well-positioned to get through the transition and to notch up the miles.
PROVISIONAL RANKINGS LEG 5
AUCKLAND (NEW ZEALAND) – ITAJAÍ (BRAZIL): 6,705 miles
Day 1 – 13:00 UTC – 18th March 2012
1. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), 6,634.09 miles from finish
2. Puma Ocean Racing (Ken Read), +0.3 miles
3. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), +1.1 miles
4. Groupama Sailing Team (Franck Cammas), + 2.3 miles
5. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), +3 miles
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), racing temporarily suspended
PROVISIONAL OVERALL STANDINGS. Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.
1. Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez), 122 points
2. Groupama Sailing Team (Franck Cammas), 107 points
3. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson), 104 points
4. Puma powered by Berg (Ken Read), 83 points
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker), 55 points
6. Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), 25 points
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