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Volvo Ocean Race: Records and Egos Left Behind in the Southern Ocean

As the each of the seven Volvo teams still racing Leg 2 approached the Kerguelen Islands, their skippers and navigators faced a critical decision

November 19, 2001
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As the each of the seven Volvo teams still racing Leg 2 approached the Kerguelen Islands, their skippers and navigators faced a critical decision of whether to leave the island to port or to starboard, and ultimately, where they wanted to be farther down the racetrack. Going north, said Assa Abloy’s navigator Mark Rudiger on Saturday, meant the possibility of being trapped for more than 100 miles, unable to get south to more wind if required. Going south, he added, required diving to 53 degrees latitude–not a good place to be considering the volume of iceberg sightings. “Tactically, we’ve realized there are lanes of wind out here north and south,” he said, “and a little luck of the draw where you end up.”

Today, as they left Kerguelen to starboard, he wrote, “Jibed, and heading 17 knots towards the mark. Feels good at the moment, hope it still feels that way tomorrow. It sure feels better for me, heading fast towards Australia than to the South Pole.” Assa’s northerly gamble promptly paid off as they encountered more wind and a better angle and sailed into second behind Knut Frostad’s djuice dragons. Djuice left the island to port, as did Team News Corp and Amer Sports One, but a deepening low may hit Amer hard over the next 24 hours.

“Right now it looks like our decision going south of Kerguelen was wrong,” wrote Amer’s navigator Roger Nilson. “A new low is expected to form just behind us, hopefully, we will avoid being trapped in its center, but still bad for us as a strong north-northwesterly will favor the boats to the north. We’re not looking so good and it’s one of these moments that it feels heavy being the navigator, having advised Grant to take this route. No excuse, just realizing that we all make our mistakes. We have not given up this leg even if the near future looks a bit grim and painful.”

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In Assa’s wake on the northern flank, is John Kostecki’s fast-charging illbruck Challenge, sailing with its wind instruments jury-rigged to the boat’s transom. Kostecki’s crew has been making its slow but steady comeback since their near sinking, and despite continuing breakages–specifically their instrument-laden masthead wand–they’ve managed to move into fourth. The possibility of illbruck overtaking News Corp and djuice is certainly in the cards before the day is over.

The Kerguelen Island split came after several days of “pedal to the metal” sailing in which leg records were topped a number of times. News Corp, set the ultimate mark on Sunday when it logged 450.13 nautical miles at an average of 18.754 knots–a new V.O.60 class record.

“It was bloody hard work but very rewarding,” wrote Field after being told of the record. “The 24 hours sailing was right on the edge. We had the right boat, great sail combinations, excellent crew work and the best weather to ring the hell out of the boat. We had a west-northwest wind 30 to 40 knots, huge rolling seas so that we could maintain speeds well over 20 knots. If the weather had continued, I’m sure we would have had a 460-plus-mile run. Above all, we didn’t make any mistakes.”

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On its own well to the north of the lead pack is Team SEB, which has been sliding down the standings as it made its way north in search of more wind to come. They’ve also been struggling with headboard car problems on the mainsail, which has prevented them from jibing as often and efficiently as they’d like.

“Whether the difference in wind between north and south is enough to get our investment back remains to be seen,” wrote SEB’s skipper Gurra Krantz. “Obviously we believe so as we are here in the north. We did not calculate with 60 miles loss to the leading boats to get here but that also includes some down time as well for us.

“Despite the fact that we wanted to stay with the fleet we found ourselves alone here in the north until Assa and illbruck joined us. All three boats are sailing high to get around the Kerguelen Island and in to the new wind from the north. Quite a bit of breeze is expected and the three of us will then be able to sail a lower course and more open wind angle than the boats in the south. That is where we hope not just get our money back, but also make a return on investment.”

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Team Tyco arrived in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, yesterday, and thorough inspection of the boat’s steering gear revealed catastrophic damage. Skipper Kevin Shoebridge promptly announced that the team was retiring from the leg and they would ship the boat to Sydney for the start of Leg 3. “As expected, the rudder was basically destroyed,” said Shoebridge. “Both halves of the stock sheered. It had no structural integrity left. All secondary bonding and taping between the two bearings had let go, or become de-bonded. We removed the rudder, we also removed the lower bearing. The lower bearing also was damaged. The needle rollers were damaged, as the bearing has been pushed beyond its normal limits of movement.”

http://www.volvooceanrace.com

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