Volvo Ocean Race leaders close in on Cape Horn

Stuart Bannatyne and Adam Minoprio on watch on the way to Chile onboard CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil.
Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race©
In the Volvo Ocean Race at 1900 UTC today, as Groupama and Puma close on Cape Horn, conditions have improved temporarily for the series of gybes required to set them free of the Southern Ocean.

Groupama reported sailing with 25 knots of west north-westerly wind in a much less violent sea. 'We are heading towards the southern tip of South America, but not directly towards Cape Horn, since we will have to gybe several times along the coast,' said skipper Franck Cammas. It will be touch and go as to whether Groupama and Puma will both escape the punchy weather still due in the region of Cape Horn tomorrow when the leading pair will be in the vicinity.

The fleet will not be sorry to leave the Southern Ocean behind. Cammas said that it was only yesterday that the waves dropped below seven metres, and admitted to broaching Groupama twice during the heaviest of conditions. 'We haven’t been really frightened at any point, but it was stressful for a long time,' he said.

Martin Krite on the bow, preparing for a sail change, onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Groupama is expected to enter Drake’s Passage, the expanse of water that separates Cape Horn from the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica tomorrow. Cape Horn marks the northern boundary of Drake’s Passage, the area notorious for shipwrecks and known as the ‘sailor’s graveyard’.

'It’s not a deciding factor that we will still be leading on exiting Drake’s Passage. However, it is not a deciding factor to be leader. What matters is to make it back into the Atlantic with a boat in her absolute prime and with a crew which is great shape,' the French skipper explained.

While Groupama and Puma keep up their duel, 41 nautical miles (nm) apart, third-placed Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) are continuing to sail cautiously with a gaping 363 nm between them and first place. However, the crew is still looking forward to rounding the historic landmark.

A brief moment of sunlight on an otherwise grey Southern Ocean day. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

'Despite how the racing is going, rounding this Cape is always an important maritime passage and it is a symbol of great personal achievement for all of us, because of the tough conditions, the cold and because of the risk undertaken when you sail down in these latitudes,' the Spanish skipper said.

Further back still and also sailing slowly due to possible damage, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have 1475 nm to claw back to still be in the game. Some of this will be achieved when Telefónica make their pit stop in Ushuaia, but whether it will be enough to give Walker and his men a podium position remains to be seen.

Paul Willcox pointing towards the horn. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand is maintaining a steady speed towards Puerto Montt in Chile, where she too will make a pit stop for damage repairs.

Volvo Ocean Race website