CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) Sailors in the Volvo Ocean Race are preparing for some of the harshest conditions on the planet in the Southern Ocean.
Leg 3 of the round-the-world race begins Sunday and will cover 6,500 nautical miles from Cape Town to Melbourne, Australia.
While the Volvo Ocean Race always dips into the Southern Ocean, this marks a return to one of the classic legs that will test crews. Sailors can expect huge swells, freezing conditions, rapid weather changes and potential ice.
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Virtual ice gates set by the race director will mark the southern edge of where boats are allowed to sail to help protect the fleet from icebergs and prevent teams from even considering the risk of going further south in treacherous waters to catch more wind.
The last edition of the bluewater classic to follow this traditional leg was in 2005-06. Subsequent races stopped in India and United Arab Emirates as event organizers looked to expand to new markets.
The decision to return to this route was made last year.
It was in the Southern Ocean where the race has had its biggest casualties. Three sailors died in the first edition in 1973 when it was called the Whitbread-Round-The-World Race.
”The water is just bloody cold,” race veteran Bouwe Bekking, skipper of Team Brunel, said. ”I think the most frightening thing is that the depressions are still so strong. If you’re getting hit by a depression and then you get front moving, you better brace yourself because just the amount of pressure that is in the air is just humongous.
”And of course, the water temperatures – hopefully with the ice gates we don’t encounter any ice – but if the water is like a few degrees above freezing and you get a southerly breeze, you might be having icicles off the mast some times. We’ve experienced it in the past.”
He also notes this.
”The boats are stronger than we had before, but still things can break.”
This leg will offer double points.
Charlie Enright, skipper of the joint American-Danish Vestas 11th Hour Racing, suspects that’s just going to mean ”people are disproportionately happy or sad when we get to Melbourne.”
”To finish first, you must first finish,” he added. ”No one is going to win every leg. We’ve had two legs and two different winners. Consistency is what is going to win this but you always set out to win.”
The fleet is expected to arrive in Melbourne in late December. Spanish-flagged MAPFRE leads the standings in the seven-boat fleet, followed by Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Dongfeng Race Team.