US crew battles for Cape Horn bragging rights in global race

ALICANTE, Spain (AP) American boat Team Alvimedica took the lead in the Volvo Ocean Race fifth leg early Sunday as the six-strong fleet continued to endure a helter-skelter ride toward Cape Horn in the Southern Ocean.

The boats managed to avoid huge icebergs on the route so far and three of them crashed to their sides mid-week before returning to vertical as winds reached 75 kilometers per hour (44mph) and waves approached 30 feet.

The fleet is expected to round Cape Horn – one of the key landmarks of the nine-month marathon offshore event – on Monday and bragging rights, but no points, go to the boat that leads at that point.

The Horn divides the Southern Ocean from the Atlantic and has been a trading route for shipping since the early 1600s. It has claimed countless sailors’ lives over the centuries and is notoriously difficult to navigate.

On Sunday morning, Alvimedica led the way as it chased its first leg win since the fleet set out on the 38,739-nautical mile race on Oct. 11 from Alicante, Spain.

Any one of the first five boats, however, could still steal past them with less than 13 nautical miles dividing them after 4,000 nautical miles of racing since the 6,776 nautical mile fifth leg started on March 18 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Their leg destination, after rounding Cape Horn and negotiating the south Atlantic, is Itajai in south-east Brazil.

Victory for Team Alvimedica would be a major achievement. The boat is packed with rookies and headed by Rhode Island’s Charlie Enright.

At 30, he is by far the youngest skipper in the fleet and also a first-timer in the world’s toughest offshore race.

He gave a taste of the relentless pressure on board as his crew battled to stay ahead of the fleet and also steer through the worst of the weather.

”I think everyone will remember today for the rest of their lives,” he reported in a message to shore after narrowly avoiding hitting rival Spanish boat MAPFRE, during a skirmish for the lead on Saturday.

”It was completely insane, very little sleep, moving sails every hour. All the boats knew where you had to be to be ahead, but the problem is not everybody can be there at once. So it was a real fight.”

Early on Sunday, they led by just 5.8 nautical miles from Dongfeng Race Team (China) and MAPFRE, with Dutch crew Team Brunel and overall race leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, less than 7 nautical miles further adrift.

The sixth boat, the all-women’s crew of Team SCA of Sweden, were some 270 nautical miles behind the main pack after suffering sail damage.

In all, the fleet will sail nine legs, visit 11 ports, and every continent. The event, staged once every three years, will conclude in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27.