This final leg will mark the completion of a feat that so few in history have achieved; a solo circumnavigation of the planet.
The drama in the VELUX 5 OCEANS kicked off before the yachts had even crossed the start line, when Tim TROY (USA), the 'American Dreamer' and amateur sailor, was forced to withdraw after his 60 foot yacht, the Margaret Anna, failed to receive IMOCA certification. It was a devastating blow for the entrepreneurial skipper who had dreamed all his life of sailing around the world single-handed and had put his job and finances on the line to fulfil his fantasies. Sadly this was not to be the time for TROY, who keeps his dreams alive for another day.
Prior to the start, Graham DALTON (NZL) also announced that he would leave Bilbao, Spain behind the fleet after the mast of his Open 50 was damaged in a storm that ripped through the Basque Capital only a few days before the departure. This delay would ultimately prove a blessing in disguise, as the storm itself should have been a warning of the conditions that were to lie in wait in the Bay of Biscay.
The tone for the first leg was set by the two British rivals, Mike GOLDING and Alex THOMSON. During the exhibition in port race in Bilbao, THOMSON paid respect to the old superstition that the winner of a prologue event will not win the overall prize. Unbeknown to GOLDING, THOMSON steered Hugo Boss the wrong side of the finish line despite leading by a substantial distance, thereby handing first place, by default, to GOLDING's Ecover. The FICO World Champion was not impressed by the young skipper's sportsmanship and refused to accept the win. The incident escalated into a war of words and bitter exchanges.
|Mike GOLDING next to the
two broken mast sections
© Mike Golding
The fleet finally left Bilbao on 22 October, but sailed straight into the eye of a horrendous storm off Cape Finisterre. The savage conditions, which registered hurricane strength winds and huge seas, forced four of the skippers back to shore to make repairs, with only Bernard STAMM (SUI) and Kojiro SHIRAISHI (JPN) battling through relatively unscathed. Without a mandatory 48 hour time penalty for receiving outside assistance, the defending champion from Switzerland and the Spiritual Adventurer from Japan built a strong lead from the outset of leg 1 to Fremantle, Western Australia.
Once all the yachts were back out on the race track, THOMSON and GOLDING set theirs sights on chasing down STAMM out in front and also keeping ahead of the other. As GOLDING approached the equator, he passed SHIRAISHI and moved into second. Uncharacteristic weather patterns in the South Atlantic allowed STAMM to cut the corner at the Cape of Good Hope. GOLDING tried to follow, but the door was shut. Meanwhile, THOMSON had gambled on sailing farther but picking up the traditionally strong winds to the south. The gamble worked and the two fierce rivals finished up side by side in the Southern Ocean, separated by only a few hundred miles at times as they battled to hold second place.
In the midst of this isolated drag race, with both skippers pushing their boats hard, disaster struck Hugo Boss, when the yacht suffered irreparable damage to the canting keel system. With a storm fast approaching, the only option was to abandon ship and the only saviour was Ecover. GOLDING did not hesitate for a second to turn back and rescue THOMSON. In a testament to the professionalism and skill of both sailors, they undertook a successful mid-ocean rescue. However, only hours after rescuing THOMSON, disaster struck Ecover as her mast smashed in three places. Forced to limp back to Cape Town, GOLDING eventually retired from the race and the VELUX 5 OCEANS lost two of the favourites.
Meanwhile, STAMM on Cheminees Poujoulat had sailed a flawless first leg and arrived first into Fremantle at the beginning of December. However, SHIRAISHI on Spirit Of Yukoh was only three days behind STAMM, an impressive performance for a skipper just entering the Open 60 class on a yacht he had only taken ownership of months before the start. The remaining competitors battled through the Southern Ocean, with Sir Robin KNOX-JOHNSTON (GBR) claiming a podium finish ahead of Unai BASURKO (ESP) and DALTON.
|Bernard STAMM celebrates
his leg 2 victory
The second leg to Norfolk, Virginia, USA, delivered uncharacteristically benign conditions in the cold expanse of the deepest Southern Ocean. Skilful sailing from STAMM saw the Swiss skipper build an impressive lead from the start, which he would hold and extend all the way to Norfolk, sailing another superb leg at impressive speeds. His seamanship shone through as he played the weather to perfection to pass through the first Southern Ocean waypoint. His navigation and routing was exemplary. As STAMM sailed on, SHIRAISHI was left floundering as bad luck, navigational mistakes and challenging weather patterns cost him dear.
The three backmarkers developed their own drag race all the way to Cape Horn. However, with pitstops for KNOX-JOHNSTON in Ushuaia and for DALTON in the Falkland Islands, BASURKO moved comfortably into third position and secured a podium finish in leg 2. With KNOX-JOHNSTON coming in fourth, the Basque skipper and the sailing legend are now locked in a close battle for fourth place ahead of the final leg, separated by only one day's sailing.
The second leg held many problems for DALTON, but the tenacious Kiwi skipper refused to give up, despite all the odds and bad luck. After pitstops in his native New Zealand and the Falklands, he was forced to stop in Brazil to repair a rudder cassette. During the stop, not only did he get struck by terrible illness and have all his onboard electronics stolen, the keel bulb fell of his yacht. However, the experienced yachtsman built a new bulb in Fortaleza and is now racing towards Norfolk in a race against time to make it back to Bilbao and fulfill his dream and the promise to his son Tony who died last year of cancer.
The fleet is now set for the final sprint back to Bilbao. Although STAMM looks set to reclaim his title with a huge lead over SHIRAISHI, who has impressed many with his performance, the battle is on between KNOX-JOHNSTON and BASURKO, who will be hoping to claim third place as he returns home to Bilbao.
The VELUX 5 OCEANS is the longest race for any individual in any sport. Over the first few days, the fleet will make their way along the northern coast of Spain to Cape Finistère where they will turn south towards the Southern Ocean. However, all of the skippers know that this race is a marathon and not a sprint. During the 30,000 miles sailed in the VELUX 5 OCEANS race, the yachts will encounter some of the most extreme sea and weather conditions on the planet.
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