Volvo Ocean Race; Two days into Leg 7 and race fleet cop a pasting

Blast reaching out the other side of the tropical depression, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal.

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet found themselves in survival mode battling their way out of the eye of a violent tropical storm overnight, suddenly caught in lightning and gale force headwinds.

They thought they were lining up for a quick, relatively easy first stage of Leg 7 – but Tropical Storm Alberto had other ideas, quickly changing direction and turning the downwind sailing of Day 1 into a survival situation sailing straight into 35 knots of gale-force winds.

Only leg leaders Groupama escaped, benefitting from an early gybe east, but for the five chasers it was a different matter altogether as Tropical Storm Alberto swallowed them up, raining down lightning bolts all round the fleet.

In his latest blog from Azzam, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker describes the chaos.

Andrew McLean bears the brunt of the force of the water on the aft grinding pedestal, onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Credit: Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race)
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©
'What a day,' Walker said. 'The whole fleet with the exception of Groupama were caught out when the tropical depression Alberta changed course and moved south east over the top of us. We were trying to ride the windshift and extra wind just to the south of it but a violent windshift headed us straight into the eye of the storm.

'There then followed a chaotic 12-hour period as we ended up on the wrong side of it beating upwind in 35 knots. All of a sudden instead of a fast ride east to the south of the storm we were right in it and in survival mode with three reefs and a heavy weather jib.

'We came off some terrible waves but most worrying of all was the lightning. The lightning was crashing all around right down to the water and it didn’t seem possible our carbon mast could avoid a direct strike.

'Nevertheless, we escaped as we managed to sail back on ourselves to the favoured side and eventually again get on our way. Groupama outsmarted everyone by gybing earlier and staying away from Alberta and cashed in a 70-mile lead.

Stuck in an apocalyptic cloud, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)
'Thankfully things have settled down now and after an entire day of seemingly non stop sail changes we are now enjoying smoother water and steadier winds. Everyone is tired as it has needed pretty much all hands on deck all day long.

'To make things worse we have a couple of bad backs on board that are suffering and one of us took a fairly hard blow to the head when he got washed back off the foredeck.

'Right now the priority is to get some food and drink into everyone, get people rested and continue the gains we have made in the last few hours. What was billed as a nice easy Atlantic crossing on initial forecasts has so far turned out to be anything but!'

Abu Dhabi had moved up to fourth place by the 0400 position, and by 0700 were 44 miles off the leaders.