Reports of improving conditions suggest the boats are coming to the end of their Southern Ocean racing in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race.
At the end of the Southern Ocean the boats climb north, bringing them into a line of sight with the communications satellites, reactivating the on board Mini M systems. However, when Team Tyco's skipper Kevin Shoebridge came on the phone to give the team's experiences over the last few days he brought some bad news.
`We've damaged two people quite badly,' explained Shoebridge. `We've had to stitch up Guy Salter's eye and David Endian has a damaged knee.' Though both are well, Endian is now bedridden until the finish in Rio.
`He [Endian] took a good hit on the knee and already has a lot of fluid gathering there,' said Shoebridge. Fortunately the teams have received expert training and carry with them numerous medical supplies for such problems and a backup team of doctors in the UK. `We think he [Endian] might have a fractured knee cap, so his leg has been put in a splint,' said Shoebridge. At present the team are waiting to see how the situation develops. `We're thinking about the possibility that we might get him off before we reach Rio, but we're not sure yet,' explained Shoebridge. Guy Salter, one of the trained medics, was injured when a wave washed him along the deck. As he slid along the deck he hit his head on the shrouds when the boat was hitting speeds of 25 knots.
In just 24 hours time the leading teams expect to be rounding Cape Horn to begin their chase up the east coast of South America toward the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. With a north-south split now evident in the fleet the question is, who's got their approach right?
`All models agreed that at some point you had to get down on the port layline as there will be a right shift over the last 500 miles in and less wind at the Horn so you want to come in hot,' explained Amer Sports One tactician Paul Cayard. `But, 500 miles is a long layline to call.'
The teams have been using two main weather models to develop their strategies. `There is a US model called MRF and a British model from Bracknell,' explained Cayard. `The MRF wanted you to go down the port lay line 600 miles out and the Bracknell was a bit more conservative, taking it in two bites.' From this it is obvious Tyco and ASSA ABLOY are following the Bracknell models whereas the three northerly boats, led by John Kostecki's illbruck, the US model.
Mark Rudiger, navigator alongside McDonald, believes the wind will move forward to give them a better angle. Cayard, who should have a reasonably good idea of Rudiger's tactics having won the race four years ago with him, also wonders whether the more southerly track is in preparation for sail to the west of the Falkland Islands.
Improving conditions on board all the boats mean the crews sleep at night in the knowledge growlers are pretty much a thing of the past, but also the weather is starting to become a little more predictable. Just the occasional snow squall now passes through the fleet. However, in some ways this makes for more difficult sailing. The crews need to rapidly work through the 'gears', changing sails to match the conditions. Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One was caught out during a gybe yesterday causing the boat to tip over further than planned. `Unfortunately we lost a sail overboard yesterday. When we gybed, the boat tipped over, we tried to retrieve the sail, but it just sank,' explained navigator Roger Nilson.
For the next couple of days the forecasts are showing lighter, and therefore more comfortable, conditions. This is an opportunity for the teams to recover and prepare for the second half of the leg, which will see conditions in stark contrast to that of the Southern Ocean - Tropical Weather and variable light to moderate winds. ASSA ABLOY are taking recuperation and preparation very seriously explained Rudiger. `The crew has stayed healthy and injury free, eating and resting as best as possible. It is so important to stay ahead in this area,' said Rudiger. `One tired person makes a small mistake, which leads to snowballing [increasing] damage and further fatigue. Next thing you know everyone is exhausted and sometimes shell-shocked.' The team know this situation well having at times been four men down during leg three from Sydney to Auckland.
With the leading boats now less than a 100 miles away from Cape Horn, the forecast conditions appear that it will give a fast, but very wet rounding. Winds are currently in from the west at around 20 - 25 knots and are expected to back into the north and increase to 40 knots, giving the V.O. 60s one of their wettest points of sailing. As the fleet then approaches the Falkland Islands, a further 350 miles, the next major tactical decision will be whether to take the inside route or the offshore route. This will depend on the wind speeds and direction, as the boats get closer to the Falklands.
illbruck with around 65 nautical miles to go to Cape Horn has gained another 13 miles on Amer Sports One, in second place, in the last six hours. Tyco, however, has gained on News Corp and with less than one mile separating them, this will make the gains and losses over the next six hours crucial for third place.
Amer Sports Too now has around 660 nautical miles before she reaches Cape Horn.
Position Report at 0426 GMT 10 February 2002
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