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25 February 2006, 04:46 pm
Caustic Environment
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Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006

In the past 24 hours the yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race have all passed the first ice gate and are heading at pace towards the second 78 nautical miles away for leader ABN AMRO ONE (Mike SANDERSON). The crews are finally getting a back into the swing of heavy weather sailing with gusts of up to 60 knots on Brasil 1 (Torben GRAEL) and violent waves hitting all the rest.
Vivid descriptions of what life onboard the Volvo 70's have been coming in thick and fast, making the avid armchair reader not at all jealous.

The ice gates which have been added to leg two and also this leg are to prevent the fleet sailing unnecessarily far south amongst the icebergs which have been detected even further to the north than in the previous years. After the second gate, they will have no choice but to head south to at least 55 degrees to get round the infamous Cape Horn on their way to Rio de Janeiro.

The best description of what a navigator's life is like in the Southern Ocean onboard these incredible yachts came in today from a bruised Steve HAYLES from Ericsson Racing Team (Neal MCDONALD). They have had a particularly hard night at sea bashing upwind but have now managed to bear away onto a reach but even at this angle of sail, the yacht still has an unusual motion. Steve tells us how to recreate this feeling on your nearest hill.

'First you need a cardboard box big enough to get inside, a laptop computer, a few mates, a couple of frying pans, a large plastic sheet and a loudhailer. Take the whole lot to the top of a very steep and uneven grass hill, preferably after a good rain shower. For maximum accuracy place the box on the plastic sheet to ensure you get that out of control feeling. Next get inside the box with the laptop and shut the lid. This accurately simulates the amount of light inside a carbon boat even during the day. Turn on the laptop and get comfortable, I would suggest trying to write an email for your first run.

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'Once everyone is ready, timing will be critical; you need your mates to shove you down the roughest part of the slope you can find and then run along next to you whacking the box as hard as they can with the kitchen implements. This should give you an idea of how hard the waves hit the nav station and the noise involved, as well as a good idea of how bumpy the ride is (remember to keep typing!)

'With the loudhailer one friend should shout alarming messages to add to the excitement. Out here the guys on deck normally shout something like 'wave', which ups my heart rate about 20% as I brace myself for the impact. To simulate the general stress levels I would suggest they use words like 'tree' or 'brick wall'

'To check the accuracy of your simulation, the laptop should be leaping into the air every few seconds and your vision should go blurry over the biggest impacts. You should be finding it fairly stressful and be fairly annoyed with yourself for choosing to do it in the first place. Your backside should genuinely hurt when you slam down and at the bottom of the hill the email should be largely unreadable!'

Reality Check

Back to reality and the Pirates onboard the Black Pearl (Paul Cayard) were the second yacht to pass through the ice gate at 1716 GMT yesterday in front of the other yachts in their more southerly pack. As soon as they reached the imaginary mark at the ice gate they could bear away but have been describing a very hard night similar to Ericsson Racing Team. Disappointingly for the Pirates they were overtaken and put back into second place, in three short hours by ABN AMRO ONE. The Dutch yacht was designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian to be faster at this particular wind angle and wind speed, but it is a hard pill for the swashbucklers to take.

Capt'n Cayard described his feelings onboard the black and red boat today, 'I just came down below from steering the boat for a couple of hours and could not help but think that tonight is one of those nights, that if any normal person was on the boat, they would think we were all nuts.

'Picture this; on deck, it is a caustic environment; pitch black, drizzling and blowing 25 knots. The spray is pelting you in the face and chest as you stand exposed at the wheel. You are wheeling this 70 ft boat around, heeling over at up to 28 degrees as you go catapulting down the waves that you can't see. You are clipped on because the amount of heel is so steep that if you lose your balance, you will fall 15 ft to the rushing water below on the leeward side of the boat. We are travelling along at 20 knots average with the apparent wind angle (the wind you feel on your face) coming from 50 degrees off centerline, which pitches the spray and wind in your face at about 35 knots. The helm has a very light feel on the wheel as the front half of the boat is out of the water most of the time. Then you think about where you are, surfing across the bottom of the planet, thousands of miles from anywhere, even you begin to think that this is crazy.'

The Pack

Brasil 1 is currently in fifth position, 148 nautical miles behind the leader ABN AMRO ONE. But the Brazilians are certainly not down, today is the start of Carnival in Brazil as Andy Meiklejohn explains, 'Saturday the 25th and the official start of carnival. This for the non-Brazilians is a religious occasion, much like Christmas and Easter and thus celebrated with as much dancing, drinking and fun that can be mustered in a country where if you're not having fun, you're probably dead.'

Back on the track, ABN AMRO TWO (Sebastien Josse) is the back marker by 224 nautical miles, with their sister ship leading the charge to the ice gate. But all is not lost for the yachts at the back, not only do they have 4977 nautical miles left of this the longest leg, but there are more tough choices to be made, as the boats batten down for some fierce winds in an intensifying low.

Weather

Conditions will be more typical of the southern ocean, with a deepening low to the south of the fleet. The low, which formed from the polar low to the south and the extra tropical cyclone to the north, will continue to intensify with strong north westerly winds in the area of the fleet. In addition, a cold front has developed to the north west of the fleet.

The low should move east at about the same rate as the boats, making for a potentially fast passage from the second ice gate to Cape Horn. As a result, the fleet can expect winds over 30 knots for the foreseeable future, with frequent gusts of over 45 knots. Boats to the south should see the strongest winds, while the boats farther north and east will have somewhat lighter winds. Who will get to the second ice gate first and dip south? We will see in 24 hours time.

Overall Leaderboard
(Up to and including Leg Three)

Pos Team Nation Skipper Pts
1 ABN AMRO ONE NED Mike SANDERSON (NZL) 38.5
2 ABN AMRO TWO NED Sebastien JOSSE (FRA) 28
3 movistar ESP Bouwe BEKKING (NED) 25
5 Pirates of the Caribbean USA Paul CAYARD (USA) 21.5
4 Brasil 1 BRA Torben GRAEL (BRA) 20
6 Ericsson Racing Team SWE Neal MCDONALD (GBR) 16.5
7 ING Real Estate Brunel AUS Grant WHARINGTON (AUS) 11.5

For a complete list of all the news about the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 CLICK HERE.

Lizzie GREEN (As Amended By ISAF). Image, ABN Amro:© ABN Amro
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