Relieved Crews Survive “Brutal” Ocean Danger Zone
The crews of the six-boat Volvo Ocean Race fleet breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday after coming through a notorious ocean danger zone that made for conditions variously described as heinous, brutal and exciting but resulted in no major damage.
Racing from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, the boats have spent the opening days of the leg skirting the tip of Africa, a course that took them directly into a treacherous area of strong currents and huge waves.
The choice of when to cross the Agulhas current split the fleet, with CAMPER, Groupama and PUMA making their run early, leaving Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Team Telefónica and Team Sanya to carry on longer along the coast before trying to cross.
By 1200 UTC on Wednesday all six boats had made it through the zone, an experience the crews are unlikely to forget. With winds up to 30 knots overnight the crews fought to slow their boats down to avoid damage from crashing off the huge waves.
Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker described the conditions when they approached the Agulhas zone. “We were running down wind in about 25 knots of wind and the seaway was heinous on starboard gybe,” he said.
“We really had to slow the boat down a lot to keep things together. We took the principal of get across (the current) as quick as we could and when we ventured across it was windier, 30 to 35 knots, but we managed to get across it with a kite and a full main.”
CAMPER’s Rob Salthouse said: “We gybed off the African around four this morning coast and took a chance to get across the Agulhas Current, which is normally a pretty rough, bumpy ride. It didn’t let us down.
“We had a pretty bumpy fast ride across the current. It’s hard to stop the boat banging and crashing as you go downwind in those conditions. So that was wet and a little bit exciting at times.”
Groupama helmsman Charles Caudrelier described the experience as “pretty brutal”.
“We went from light airs to quickly built wind and a very messy sea,” he said. “As a result we had to slow the boat. To preserve the boat and the mast we couldn’t sail at 100 per cent. We had waves from every direction and the boat didn’t stop slamming: a lot of stress on boat, the structure and the rigging.”
Overall race leader Team Telefonica were the last to make their run at the Agulhas current and crossed in the far north in flatter conditions than the rest.
Navigator Andrew Cape said that in the end the experience was nothing out of the ordinary.
“It wasn’t as bad as I though it was going to be. Because we were a bit further north, it was a bit flatter. We had quite a bit of wind, the current increases our wind speed so we ended up with an easy 25 knots gusting 28.
“The boat was certainly going fast through the waves, nose-diving a few times, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was all pretty straightforward -- not a drama.”
Safely through the Agulhas region the fleet is now focused on finding a way through a trough of unstable conditions and into stronger steadier winds.
Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says the way the fleet negotiate this trough could be key to the whole leg. “The trough is linking two quite static low pressure systems and getting through will be tricky,” he said. “Whoever can find a way through first will have a big advantage.”
On board current leader Abu Dhabi, skipper Ian Walker said he and navigator Jules Salter were pouring over every weather update. “If we can get through this trough we will go straight into good northerlies and we will be fast all the way into the high pressure,’” he said. “If we can’t get through then we will be sitting here for days bashing up against it.”