Leg 5: Auckland to Itajai, Brazil
Order of finish: Abu Dhabi, Mapfre, Alvimedica, Brunel, SCA, Dongfeng (retired)
Best 24-hour run: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing @ 549 nm
Postponed in Auckland while Tropical Cyclone Pam ran its course, the sailors grew anxious. The fastest way across the Southern Ocean is with the assistance of an eastward moving storm, but this one was too powerful. Instead, the fleet left on Pam's coattails and into the most brutal conditions of the race thus far. The sailing was fast, but it was unforgiving, and smartly so, a few teams, including Alvimedica, had bolstered their rosters with Southern Ocean veterans.
The fleet set out on March 18 with Mapfre leading the charge, and the following day, feeling the departing storms lingering effects, the teams were having a hard time settling into routines. "Now that we're actually
here, everyone's either green or exhausted and often both," wrote Amory Ross, Alvimedica's onboard reporter. "The sea state is really confused and it makes doing any- thing abnormally difficult. We talk a lot about racing these boats, the demands and skills it requires. But when the conditions are like they are now, simply living takes considerable effort too."
But they lived through the blistering sprint south to established ice gates—waypoints set to keep the fleet from iceberg hazards— and as conditions worsened, so too did reports from the boats. Four teams reported crash jibes, which come unexpectedly and create all sorts of havoc on the boat, especially at night, as it happened for the women of SCA who permanently damaged their most important headsail, leaving them reeling at the back of the fleet.
For days on end, as the leaders approached Cape Horn, it was simply a battle of attrition and preservation, and it was Dongfeng who looked set to take the Horn by storm, until its mast broke one-third of the way from the top. They were only two hundred miles from rounding and, understandably, devastated.
"We were not pushing a lot, less than the others, as I really wanted to take care of the boat," reported Caudrelier. "We are going to lose a lot of points. I always tell to my guys, you don't do the Volvo Ocean Race with- out meeting a big problem. Last time (on Groupama), we broke the mast on the same leg and we won the race, so the game is not over for us. We will lose some points but we will still be on the podium, and we are going to attack and try to come back. It's not the end of the world, just one leg hopefully."
Dongfeng's darkness gave Team Alvimedica its brightest moment. A calculated run across the Southern Ocean saw them to theHorn frst, 12 minutes ahead of Abu Dhabi Racing. The celebration would be short, however,
as days later, the race's overall leader chipped away the miles, assumed the lead, and sailed into Itajai to re-establish its position atop the leader board.
"This is a hugely satisfying result," said Walker upon arrival. "You always have to be wary of the Southern Ocean, and this time was no different. We saw some of the most ferocious conditions any of us has seen, but we stayed strong and made it through. Our hearts go out to the Dongfeng crew. It's hard to know where the red line is for these boats until you cross it—and by then, it's too late. We wish them the very best of luck in getting back in the race as soon as possible."