A few days back I posted a story about the start of the third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. At the time, I mentioned that the seven crews involved in the round-the-world competition were now heading into the difficult and unpredictable Southern Ocean. Lest anyone think that those warnings were nothing but over blown hyperbole, the ships quickly ran into foul weather which was enough to break the mast and nearly capsize one of the vessels.
After setting out from Cape Town under a strong breeze, the teams found themselves with calm weather for the start of their adventure across the Southern Ocean. But, as expected, those conditions didn’t last long and within a day or two a high pressure storm system began to build. That system bore down on the ships as they make their way deeper south en route to their eventual destination in Melbourne, Australia.
This massive low-pressure system is massive in scale, stretching for 1500 nautical miles (1726 miles/2778 km) from the tip of Africa nearly all the way to Antarctica itself. It brings with it intense winds of about 35 knots (40 mph/64 km/h) with gusts exceeding 50 knots (57 mph/92 km/h) at times. As you can imagine, that has made for some difficult conditions with heavy seas creating massive waves.
One of the teams in particular has felt the sting of the Southern Ocean. Team AkzoNobel of the Netherlands was forced to slow down and make repairs after high winds caused the track that attaches the mainsail to the back of the mast to break. At the moment they are still assessing their options while continuing to race using the forward sails only. As you can probably imagine, this means they are limping along and losing ground to the top teams. It also forced them to turn away from their intended course along the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone, a section of the course that is off limits do to ice. Teams are skirting the edge of the AIEZ as it makes for the shortest route, even if they are flirting with danger.
The damage occurred when the ship was gybing along in high winds and big seas. The crew made the switch from starboard to port on the mainsail when the track broke in two places, nearly causing the ship to capsize. The team was able to lower the sail quickly to avoid further damage, and no crew members were injured, but AkzoNobel is certainly losing time as they work out a solution. To help with that process they are heading north for calmer seas and warmer temperatures, which can help with repairs, but they have already given up 300 miles (482 km) to the front runners.
Another team has their own scare while in the Southern Ocean. Team Turn the Tide on Plastic, racing under the United Nations flag, had their man overboard alarm go off in the middle of the night. A frantic search began, but fortunately all members of the crew were accounted for and the ship was able to continue on course.
The teams are just getting started with the Southern Ocean. They will continue racing towards Melbourne with an estimated arrival around December 27. A lot can happen between now and then, and this massive storm isn’t finished yet. You can follow all of the action on the Volvo Ocean Race website.
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