"It's a fearsome place and deserves a great deal of respect," said Team Telefónica watch captain Neal McDonald.
"Climbing Everest is not particularly risk free or glamorous but people want to do it for the challenge and it's the same with the Southern Ocean."
The fleet will be further from civilisation than ever before, sailing through the notorious Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties where the winds consistently blow above 40 knots and conditions are more than capable of breaking boats.
It's also a return to the 'traditional' route made famous by the Whitbread Round the World Race.
"It's pushing it to the extreme, and the sailing is unbelievable," said two-time race veteran Rob Salthouse, helmsman with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand.
"It's a return to the spirit of adventure that the Whitbread was all about."
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker added, "The next leg is already on everybody's mind. It really is classic Volvo Ocean Race.
"You have to keep your wits about you - it can be very dangerous but exhilarating at the same time."
CAMPER co-skipper Stu Bannatyne is no stranger to the Southern Ocean, having competed in five previous editions of the Volvo Ocean Race.
"It's the most extreme part of the race for sure," Bannatyne said. "There's a lot of fast sailing; it's chance to get some big, decent waves to get surfing on.
"As sailors that's what we love doing. It's the biggest draw in terms of the sailing."
Despite his wealth of Southern Ocean experience, Bannatyne said racing through the Southern Ocean was now more dangerous than ever.
"It's much more dangerous now because the boats are going so much quicker," he added.
"When you nose dive or get water over the deck, the boat is travelling at a rate that can actually cause injury.
"We have to be very concerned about crew safety and looking after the team as well as the boat."
During the 6,700 nautical mile Leg 5, the skippers will face waves more than 12 metres high and winds of up to 60 knots.
They will also pass Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the world, more than 2,000 nautical miles from land in every direction.
Race veteran Tony Rae, CAMPER's most experienced helmsman with four races already under his belt, said the Southern Ocean presented one of the biggest challenges to the fleet so far.
"It's one of those places where you have to really respect the weather," he said. "The air is so much colder, the air pressure is a lot stronger and the water is so much colder.
"It's more difficult to get things done, your hands are cold, you get hit in the face by freezing waves.
"You've got more gear on so it's harder to move around, it takes you longer to get your gear on when you get out of your bunk, it takes you longer to get out of it when you finish your watch.
"All these things take their toll."
The threat of ice breaking off from Antarctica has forced race organisers to implement an ice line to stop the fleet sailing too far south into dangerous waters.
"I've seen some huge areas of ice in the Southern Ocean," Bannatyne added. "The ice limits pretty much take that out of the equation now.
"Nowadays you've just got to stand by for the weather really; it can throw a lot at you. I've been in snow squalls, in the pitch black - it's pretty tough sailing."
After taking all the Southern Ocean can throw at them the fleet must round Cape Horn, one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world, where millions of tonnes of ocean are forced through a 400-mile wide gap between the South American continent and Antarctica.
"For the first-timers, rounding Cape Horn will be a highlight," Abu Dhabi skipper Walker said. "It's the sailor's equivalent of climbing Mount Everest."
Leg 5 starts on Sunday March 18 at 14:00 local time (01:00 UTC).
Prior to the leg start, the Pro-Am race will be held at 1200 local time on Friday March 16, with the In-Port Race taking place at 1400 local time on Saturday March 18.
Volvo Ocean Race website - www.volvooceanrace.org