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Volvo Ocean Race: illbruck Skirts Catastrophe

John Kostecki’s Illbruck switches from race mode to emergency mode when its forward compartment fills; Tyco Leads on Day 2.

November 12, 2001
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Two days into Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race and overall race leader illbruck Challenge has a view of the eight-boat fleet it’s never seen before–an empty rear-view mirror. illbruck’s slip into last in the leg standings overnight was result of an open inspection hatch on the foredeck, which allowed water to nearly fill the boat’s forward compartment. For skipper John Kostecki’s 11-man crew, last night was a tense and painful evening onboard the sinking 60-footer.

“We were changing to our smaller heavy air jib as the wind built to 30 to 35 knots,” wrote Kostecki this morning. “Then, all of sudden, we noticed that boat was not going very well and felt sluggish. The bow seemed to be lower than normal and started taking waves more frequently.

“Ross Halcrow went to check the bow hatch, to see if we had a water problem. He came back on deck with a fright. He could not open the hatch because of the amount of water in the forward tank ahead of the watertight bulkhead. The entire forward tank was full of water and we had to stop racing. We dropped the jib moved all of our gear below and above deck as far aft as possible to stop the bow from sinking further. After trying several different modes of sailing, we eventually found that backing down was the best to keep the bow area out of the waves. We started the emergency pump and started getting the water out and bailed with buckets from on deck. It took nearly two hours to control the situation before we could start racing again. This all took place at night in 30 to 35 knots as our competitors sailed away.”

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While illbruck is now playing catch up, Kevin Shoebridge’s Team Tyco and Knut Frostad’s djuice dragons are nearly even as they lead the fleet into the second night of the 6,550-mile haul through the Southern Ocean to Sydney, Australia. Both described miserable conditions in the opening hours of the leg. Many crews had lost their sea legs over the pit stop in Cape Town, and until today, were still adjusting to the rhythm of racing a bucking 60-footer upwind. “As we slowly sailed into a stronger and stronger southeasterly breeze, the sea got quite bad and at some stage I decided to ease off a little to be nice to the boat,” wrote Frostad today. “We had up to 38 knots of wind against us. Upwind is obviously something we have practiced a lot in the last leg–more than the others.”

After his dismal Leg 1 finish, Frostad streamlined his navigation team to one–Jean Yves Bernot–and added American Terry Hutchinson to help with tactics. Thus far, the arrangement has helped the sole Laurie Davidson-designed boat in the fleet get out of Cape Town clean and in striking distance of the lead for the first time in the race.

At the 1600 GMT position report today, Tyco and djuice were holding their own against those immediately behind, but Jez Fanstone and Ross Field’s, Team News Corp was the first to make a clear early break to the south. It’s a critical move in the opening days of the leg and in the standings, they’ve dropped to seventh, but their strategy, they hope, will get them to the westerlies first and get them safely around a high-pressure system that they’re expected to run into soon. The forecast has a typical Southern Ocean low rolling in from the west, and they’re positioning themselves for it accordingly.

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“We’re very pleased to see the other boats in the fleet have followed us,” said Field in e-mail today, adding that they’d intended this move from the start. “We’re now where we want to be. We’ll be moderating our course to the east over the next six hours and keeping close tabs on the rest of the fleet.”

Onboard Assa Abloy, stalking the leaders from six miles back, co-skipper/navigator Mark Rudiger expressed his frustration at not being in the lead. “Here we are again now playing catch up,” he wrote early today. “It’s going to be a very rough night with southeasterly gale force winds. We’re already feeling the waves and the wind is up. We have changed to a No. 4 [jib] and are getting ready to reef [the mainsail]. We really have to think ahead because it’s hard to do the changes late. Sailing in these conditions is miserable enough when you’re in the lead, hateful when you’re behind.”

One mile in arrears of Rudiger is Grant Dalton’s Amer Sports One, which reported having broken a jib halyard last night and sailing for two hours under main alone. Team SEB, Amer Sports Too, and News Corp, respectively, are all in close proximity, sailing similar compass courses, and reporting matching speeds. For tonight at least, it’s a Southern Ocean drag race to the bottom of the globe, and tomorrow’s 1600 position report will likely set the tone for remainder of the leg.

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