The wind Gods were smiling at start day for the 6,550 nautical mile leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race to Sydney, providing spectacular sailing conditions in Table Bay, under the watchful gaze of Table Mountain.
A freshening westerly 24-knot breeze blew out of a clear and cloudless blue sky, declaring a true beat to windward towards the 200-metre wide gate set three miles to the west, 2000 metres offshore northwest of Green Point.
The whole fleet made a clean start on starboard tack with djuice choosing the favourable pin end of the line, next to the breakwater. News Corp was the first V.O. 60 to reach the gate, three miles up the race track, followed by illbruck 30 seconds behind. The girls on Amer Sports Too showed a good performance right after the start also, holding second behind their mates on Amer Sports One for some time. For most of the first and second day they held a position in the middle of the fleet.
The eight crews on the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race were not given a chance to ease into the three-week stage that promises to be the hardest of the race. Just a few hours later they were confronted with 35 knots of breeze on the nose. Team News Corp navigator Ross Field, who has competed in three Whitbread Races, winning two, described the conditions as, "my worst first night at sea for a long time. Big seas, on the wind, bashing and crashing into a 38-knot southeasterly, crew sea sick, no one eating, inside of the boat a shambles. Horrible.... ".
In the middle of the first night, illbruck looked to be the first casualty of the leg as the crew discovered hundreds of litres of water had poured into the forward section of the hull, causing the bow to submarine. Skipper John Kostecki's apprehension was all too apparent in the email he sent back from the German boat: "The fleet was all in sight as we all were heading south past the Cape of Good Hope. We were changing to our smaller heavy air jib as the wind built to 30-35 knots. Then, all of sudden, we noticed that the boat was not going very well and felt sluggish. The bow seemed to be lower than normal and started taking waves more frequently. Rosco [Ross Halcrow] went to check the bow hatch, to see if we had a water problem. He came back on deck with a fright. He could not open the hatch because of the amount of water in the forward tank ahead of the watertight bulkhead.
"The boat got slower and slower and then we could not keep her going anymore. We went into irons as we were trying to figure out why the bow was sinking so fast. We eventually found out an inspection port on the bow just behind the headstay came off somehow. The entire forward tank was full of water and we had to stop racing. We dropped the jib, moved all of our gear below and above deck as far aft as possible to stop the bow from sinking further. After trying several different modes of sailing we eventually found that backing down was the best way to keep the bow area out of the waves. We started the emergency pump and start getting the water out and bailed with buckets from on deck. It took nearly two hours to control the situation before we could start racing again. This all took place at night in 30-35 knots as our competitors sailed away."
Tyco and djuice continued to lead the race into the second evening at sea while Team News Corp made the first noticeable move of the leg, boldly splitting from the main pack.
Team News Corp skipper Jez Fanstone and navigator Ross Field positioned themselves as the most southerly and westerly yacht, some 17 miles to the west of the leading two, sacrificing fleet position for a better angle of attack at the ridge of high pressure that was lying ahead.
Wednesday afternoon skipper Kevin Shoebridge of Tyco, heard what he described as "a loud bang from the back of the boat," when they were leading the Volvo Ocean Race fleet. An immediate inspection revealed cracks in the carbon fibre laminate of the rudderstock between the two bearings, which hold the rudder on. The crew first tried to make repairs at sea by securing the rudderstock with seven 8-inch hose clamps. A few hours later a second and more violent bang was heard and it was soon decided that the boat could not continue racing in that condition. The decision was made to head for the closest point of land to undergo repairs, in this case Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Earlier Shoebridge reported, "It's nearly been 24 hours since we first started having problems with the rudder. Reality has set in today as we limp north. We have the situation well in hand and are sailing under Genoa staysail, which is providing six to seven knots of speed. The rudder is still crackling behind the watertight door and we await flat water to make the next move. It is our intention to get the rudder out of the boat at first opportunity to reduce any more damage should we encounter strong wind and waves. The worst scenario is to have the shaft snap inside the boat, this would then allow the blade to thrash around under the boat and possibly make a large hole by ripping out the lower bearing. We will get the boat to Sydney and fight right back into this race where we feel we belong. Plenty to go yet in this long race. Everyone is disappointed we had to pull out of this leg as we did, but we've had so much to keep us busy over the last 24 hours. We're keeping busy and morale onboard is fine.
"The boat is currently sailing in 20 knots of breeze. Wind is expected to get lighter, and they have replaced the damaged rudder with the emergency rudder. The crew have now taken down all sails except the staysail and have also prepared all the watertight bulkheads as an extra precaution."
Team Tyco Shore Manager Ian Stewart mobilized his shore crew to meet the boat at the designated rendezvous point. Once the boat arrives, they will fully assess the damage and review options for repairs. "The positive aspect is that they were only 650 miles into the Southern Ocean and they can return to shore relatively quickly. It could be worse," said Stewart.
Tyco is expected to arrive in South Africa on Sunday evening.
Volvo Ocean 60 yachts are required by race rules to carry an emergency rudder system, supplied by the race organisers. In addition, the watertight bulkheads will ensure the safety of the yacht should water penetrate the hull. In the 1993-1994 Whitbread race, the crew of Brooksfield successfully sailed 1000 miles through the Southern Ocean to Fremantle, using a similar emergency rudder after a rudder bearing failed causing the rudder to break away from the hull.
Three of the Tyco crew, British sailors Tim Powell, Gerry Mitchell and Steve Hayles, will be getting a distinct feeling of déjà vu as eight years ago, rudder problems on their Whitbread yacht Dolphin and Youth caused them to put into the remote Kerguelen Islands to effect a repair.
Amer Sports One skipper Grant Dalton communicated his thoughts on the importance of finding the right gear in order not to damage the boats: "My reading on the fleet is that boats are not breaking down. Although the pace may not seem really fast, believe me with the moderate to fresh winds that we have, it is. In some ways it is harder to sail in these conditions than in lots of wind, as we carry big sails now and in a big breeze they are somewhat smaller and the strain on the boats seems less." To finish first in a yacht race, first you have to finish!
Meanwhile, ASSA ABLOY continued to lead a speeding Volvo Ocean Race fleet east towards Australia, 18 miles ahead of Team SEB.
An email from Dalton described the wild conditions the fleet wasexperiencing as they sped downwind at an average of 17 knots. "Brother is it wet, it would be impossible for the boat to be any wetter. This is not your average heavy spray, more walls of white water which eventually penetrate through everything."
"We are in the 'standard roaring forties': westerlies of 30 knots, tons ofcold water on deck, albatross in the sky and on the top of it two icebergs this morning," reported a djuice crewman on Wednesday, just as the fleet finally hopped onto an express ride towards Australia.
All the yachts were easily making 350-mile plus days, with a current top speed of 33 knots (by ASSA ABLOY).
As the yachts dropped further south, temperatures continued to plummet, making life down below only slightly more appealing than on deck. "Clothing for the guys on deck now includes full-face crash helmets, deep-sea divers' gloves and just about everything they can find in their sparse kit bags. Inside the boat things are a little better but still cold, especially when we sleep next to two and a half tons of freezing cold water in the ballast tanks," explained Tyco's Steve Hayles, just hours before the yacht suffered their rudder stock failure.
Yet, as Ross Field added, the good times definitely outweighed the bad by a hundred to one. "Remember, with all the discomfort, we love this place; strong winds, wild rides, being a little on edge for a day and sailing with a good bunch of guys."
On Friday, the Volvo Ocean Race saw a new leader: djuice, having established a new 24 hour record run for this leg (so far), sailing 403 miles up to 04.00hrs GMT, snatched the lead from ASSA ABLOY and extended it to 11 miles during the course of the day.
Lying in fourth position on Saturday, Team SEB's worst nightmares threatened to come true. When looking up the mast after a gybe the top of the mainsail was standing off the mast to windward, while the rest of the sail was already to leeward. Something was wrong with the headboard car. Bowman Beavis went up the mast to check and he reported, "The headboard could not rotate freely from side to side without getting jammed on the back wall of the headboard car. It was hard to believe." They lowered the main for some time, and fixed the problem. Still it has cost them several miles and it will be a very hard fight back.
Volvo Ocean Race Position Report, Day 8, 10.00hrs GMT:
PS Yacht Latitude Longitude DTF CMG SMG TFHR DTL DTL-C ETA PO
1 DJCE 51 10.56S 061 56.08E 4371 097 19.4 437 0 0 03 DEC 01 10
2 NEWS 51 49.92S 061 49.28E 4375 093 19.7 447 4 -2 03 DEC 01 13
3 AART 49 33.20S 060 55.32E 4412 085 18.5 405 41 +6 03 DEC 01 10
4 TSEB 48 47.84S 060 33.32E 4429 080 17.9 414 58 +11 03 DEC 01 8
5 ILBK 49 44.08S 060 23.92E 4432 089 19.7 436 61 -1 03 DEC 01 12
6 AONE 50 35.36S 060 10.16E 4438 098 17.7 412 67 +9 03 DEC 01 10
7 ATOO 51 01.48S 056 28.08E 4577 085 14.3 369 206 +32 04 DEC 01 3
8 TYCO 35 09.20S 026 07.88E 6125 341 06.9 147 1754 +147 09 DEC 01 6
PS - Position; DTF - Distance to Finish; CMG - Course made good; SMG - Speed made good; TFHR - 24 hours run; DTL - Distance to leader; DTL-C - Distance to leader change; ETA - Estimated time of arrival; PO - accumulated Points
ILBK illbruck Challenge
AONE Amer Sports One
ATOO Amer Sports Two
AART ASSA ABLOY Racing Team
NEWS News Corporation
TYCO Team Tyco
TSEB Team SEB
DJCE djuice dragons