ALICANTE, Spain, March 27 – The Volvo Ocean Race fleet reached the halfway point of their nine-month marathon – midway through the fifth leg of nine – on Friday and were still glued together in some of the closest racing in the event’s 41-year history.
For those on shore, the day offered the chance to take stock following a dramatic week in which three boats suffered Chinese gybes, but for the crews it was business as usual as they tussled head-to-head approaching the key landmark of Cape Horn.
At 1240 UTC, just 7.7 nautical miles (nm) separated the first five boats with Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) bringing up the rear, some 80nm further adrift (see panel above).
Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) must think they are on some kind of Southern Ocean crazy rollercoaster. On Tuesday, they were part of the trio of boats – MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Team SCA were the others – to crash over on their sides in a so-called Chinese gybe. But, remarkably, all the crews managed to right themselves without overly serious damage to either sailor or boat and within 48 hours of the incidents, Dongfeng Race Team found themselves at the head of the fleet.
This was no time to take it easy, however, for anyone. The 1240 UTC position report on Friday showed the Chinese boat had lost pressure again and slipped back to fifth place behind new leaders, MAPFRE, with Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/U.S.), Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) sandwiched in between. All was certainly not lost for Caudrelier and his crew, however, with MAPFRE virtually within view.
For Dongfeng’s helmsman, Damian Foxall (IRL), it has already been a memorable ride, after being called up to sail just this 6,779nm leg. “It is hard to describe the stress on board after the Chinese gybe – ‘is everyone here, is anything damaged?’ Yet three hours later, incredibly, we were back on track,” he wrote in a blog.
Sam Davies, skipper of Team SCA, was also in a reflective mood early on Friday. “It has been a hard few days; full of emotion, stress, adrenaline,” she wrote in her blog. “As skipper it is hard to find the balance between pushing the boat and crew, but making sure we stay safe and keeping our boat in one piece. Out here, there is little margin for error. I feel like we have found our limits, and proved to ourselves that we are pushing hard. We suffered from our wipeout with the damage we sustained and it is frustrating to lose the miles like that, but we are slowly getting back to as near 100 per cent as possible.”
The fleet is expected to reach Cape Horn on Sunday, and then their Leg 5 destination, Itajaí in south-eastern Brazil, around April 4.
The race, with four and a half legs still to negotiate and six more ports to visit, remains too close to call, with the two overall leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Dongfeng Race Team, fighting it on a level eight points apiece, and currently just 4.8nm apart.
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Halfway way round: Facts and figures from 4.5 legs of 9
In the five months since this race left Alicante, the fleet has visited Alicante, Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya and Auckland. Now, they're in the toughest arena of all – the Southern Ocean – winging their way towards Itajaí. That's a lot of miles sailed.
30,346 nautical miles sailed so far for Team SCA
30,050 nautical miles sailed so far for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
29,967 nautical miles sailed so far for Dongfeng Race Team
30,301 nautical miles sailed so far for Team Brunel
30,153 nautical miles sailed so far for Team Alvimedica
30,327 nautical miles sailed so far for MAPFRE
11,803 nautical miles sailed so far for Team Vestas Wind
1 food cooler lost overboard on Team Alvimedica
1 drone lost on Dongfeng Race Team
A lot of hours lost in the Doldrums!
4 Chinese sailors given their first taste of offshore life
23 pollywogs became shellbacks
18 birthdays celebrated at sea
2 Thanksgiving parties
Plenty of Valentine's Day love
The world is watching
Nearly 51 million minutes watched on the Volvo Ocean Race Youtube channel.
A cumulative TV audience of over 1 billion people around the world.
Over one million views on The Inside Track.
3 Chinese gybes
2 crazy cyclones avoided
1 epic salvage mission
…which reached over 3 million people on Facebook alone.
10,923 emails sent from the boats to Alicante Race Control
3 oceans crossed.
3 Equator crossings.
4 different In-Port Race winners.
Over 15,000 hours of spectactular sailing completed.
That’s 54 million seconds of concentration, focus and intensity, 3,750 watch changes and 5,000 freeze-dried meal times.
And a few knocks picked up along the way
1 perforated eardrum
1 ruptured herniated disc
1 broken hand, 1 broken bone in hand
2 ribs broken, 2 ribs cracked
A LOT of painkillers and bandages
And a LOT of fun had by all!