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Clipper Ventures USA Newsletter: The Volvo Ocean Race's wild Southern Ocean ride


Buckling up for the 2017/2018 Volvo Ocean Race’s wildest Southern Ocean ride

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Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 01 on board Brunel. Passing White island at sunrise. Peter Burling. Carlo Huisman. Abby Ehler at the mast. Not sure about the other ones - photo © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race

Dear [recipient name]

When it comes to sailing, few places capture the imagination to the same extent as the windswept depths of the Southern Ocean and legendary Cape Horn, the latter of which holds the nearly mythological status of serving as sailing's Mount Everest. Simply surviving in this inhospitable environment is a serious ask for most highly skilled sailors, but to race through this seascape of towering waves, howling winds, and lonely albatrosses requires near superhuman strength, determination and drive, as well as an acceptance of the fact that this ecosystem will "encourage" every sailor to redefine their personal breaking point(s).

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7, Auckland to Itajai - photo © Jesus Renedo / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7, Auckland to Itajai - photo © Jesus Renedo / Volvo Ocean Race

While this likely sounds utterly horrific to sailors with a bit more sense than others, this is the exact reality facing the dozens of sailors who are taking part in the 2017/2018 Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), which just began its marathon, 6,776-nautical mile leg that will take the fleet of seven identical Farr-designed Volvo Ocean 65s from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil, on Sunday, March 18.

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En route, all sailors can expect to be wet, cold, hungry and uncomfortable for large swaths of the time, likely punctuated only by snaps of pure fear, pulsing adrenaline, unadulterated exhilaration, and - once Cape Horn is safely astern - supreme accomplishment.

Bouwe Bekking – Volvo Ocean Race - photo © Rich Edwards / Volvo Ocean Race
Bouwe Bekking – Volvo Ocean Race - photo © Rich Edwards / Volvo Ocean Race

"It's going to be bloody cold," said Bouwe Bekking (NED), Team Brunel's skipper, who will be rounding Cape Horn for his eighth time on this leg, in an official VOR press release. "It's a funny thing, there will be moments when you hate it, but you know better times are ahead and when you arrive in Brazil, you forget the bad parts and the good parts stay with you."

Call it a lifetime of experience or simply the VOR's competitive nature, but Bekking mirrors his competition when he discusses the magnetic pull that keeps drawing him back to the Southern Ocean. "It's probably the best sailing you can get. We know the boats so well at this point in the race, we will be pushing 100 percent."

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 to Auckland, day 15 on board Sun hung Kai / Scallywag. David Witt. 21 February - photo © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 to Auckland, day 15 on board Sun hung Kai / Scallywag. David Witt. 21 February - photo © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race

David Witt (AUS), skipper of the Hong Kong-flagged Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, agrees with Bekking's commitment to sailing fast, despite the impending big weather. "We're going to win the leg or drop the rig," said Witt in an official communication ahead of Leg 7. "That's the mentality. This is a big chance for Scallywag to stay up there and do something or drop back towards the back of the pack... We don't care what goes wrong or what breaks... We're just going to send it."

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Others are slightly less cavalier but equally committed to a podium finish. "It's a difficult leg for sure," said Charles Caudrelier (FRA), skipper of Dongfeng Race Team, in an official VOR communication. "Sometimes you have to forget the race and take care of the boat and the crew. I know this very well. I've done this leg twice and never finished with the mast up! And Pascal [Bidégorry] did this leg twice and he's never made it past Cape Horn! So that is one of our goals, make it past Cape Horn and finish with the mast up!"

Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18. Charles Caudrelier, Dongfeng. - photo © Guy Nowell
Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18. Charles Caudrelier, Dongfeng. - photo © Guy Nowell

Leg 7 also marks the return of the American and Danish-flagged Vestas/11th Hour Racing team, who sustained a collision with a fishing boast some 30 nautical miles before the finishing line in Hong Kong on Leg 4 (Melbourne to Hong Kong), which tragically killed a fisherman and caused considerable damage to the team's VO65. Fortunately, the team was able to build and fit a new bow section to the boat in New Zealand, allowing them to rejoin the race for the Southern Ocean melee.

"The team has come together great, the repair has come together great," said Charlie Enright (USA), the team's skipper, who proudly rounded Cape Horn ahead of his competition as skipper of Team Alvimedica in the 2014/2015 edition of the VOR. "There are 16 points available to the winner and to put that into context, we have 23 points now, so it's going to be a big move and shake. We had a successful Southern Ocean leg last time and we're looking to repeat that performance."

Welcome to the Southern Ocean: Charlie Enright on board Vestas 11th Hour during Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race - photo © Sam Greenfield / Volvo Ocean Race
Welcome to the Southern Ocean: Charlie Enright on board Vestas 11th Hour during Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race - photo © Sam Greenfield / Volvo Ocean Race

Not surprisingly, this same locked-and-loaded mentality also reverberates through the hull and rigging of MAPFRE, which is currently topping the leaderboard for both the offshore legs and in-port races.

"Of course I feel like [the other teams] are coming closer and faster, but we can only do one thing – push the boat, sail well and try to win this leg," said Xabi Fernández (ESP), who is serving as MAPFRE's skipper and who is preparing to round Cape Horn for his seventh time. "If we can win this leg, it's a big step forward. There is nothing to change, we just need to sail a little bit better than the others and push a little bit harder."

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As of this writing, Enright and his Vestas/11th Hour Racing team are topping Leg 7's leaderboard, followed by Turn The Tide On Plastic and MAPFRE, but with almost 6,282 nautical miles separating the leader from the finishing line, there is plenty of runway left for smart strategy and tactical opportunities.

Xabi Fernández to skipper MAPFRE in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 - photo © Francisco Vignale / MAPFRE / Volvo Ocean Race
Xabi Fernández to skipper MAPFRE in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 - photo © Francisco Vignale / MAPFRE / Volvo Ocean Race

Meanwhile, this Friday (March 23) also marks the start of Leg 6 of the Clipper Around The World Yacht Race, which will take the 12-strong fleet of identical, Tony Castro-designed 70-footers from Qingdao, China, to my hometown of Seattle, Washington, a distance of some 5,528 nautical miles. While the Clipper fleet won't round The Horn, these crews can expect several proper Pacific Ocean pastings as they cross some of the planet's most desolate soundings. wishes all 19 teams competing in the VOR and the Clipper Race safe and successful passage through the Southern Ocean and across the Pacific Ocean (respectively), and we are certainly looking forward to welcoming the Clipper fleet to Seattle next month.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, North American Editor

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