2014-15: Highlights Leg 5 - From Auckland to Itajaí
Leg 5 held its promises.
It's been long – over 7,200 nautical miles sailed from New Zealand to Brazil.
It's been rough – Dongfeng's mast even broke, forcing the team to retire from the leg.
It's been physically and mentally challenging – three teams endured Chinese gybes and most suffered equipment failures.
It's been very tight, too. On Sunday, April 5, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing finally took the line honours, with MAPFRE in second and Team Alvimedica in third, 1min 16 seconds ahead of Team Brunel.
Those first four boats finished within 55 minutes.
Two days later, on Tuesday, April 7, Team SCA's arrival brought Leg 5 to an end. Here's a look back at these three weeks of offshore adventure and incredible racing.
In the wake of Pam
First, a natural disaster. Cyclone Pam forced the race organisers to delay the leg start. Instead of Sunday, March 15 as initially planned, the boats left Auckland on Wednesday, March 18, at 0900 NZDT (Tuesday March 17, 2000 UTC).
"This is a cyclone which has killed many people, and created a total disaster with fatalities in some amazing islands that we just raced through north of New Zealand," explained race CEO Knut Frostad at the time.
"It's not just a weather system, we're talking about a natural disaster. For me, as a race organiser, I would never even consider starting in that cyclone."
24 hours later, the fleet reached the remnants of Pam. The breeze was strong and the sea state, terrible – proving it was definitely the right call to delay the start.
"Wind speed is around 30 knots right now and we're doing around 20-22," reported Matt Knighton from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on March 19. "It's very bumpy onboard and loud from the waves crashing on deck. A few bouts of seasickness – we're getting banged around just trying to take a leak."
In fact, according to the race doctor Pablo Diaz, a third of the sailors were seasick by then.
Soon enough though, conditions got easier and the fleet started heading southeast towards the ice limit. In the lead: Team Alvimedica.
Along the ice limit
Once they fell off the tail of Cyclone Pam, all teams looked for the fastest way to reach the ice limit.Race Management placed this virtual line to protect the fleet from the ice drifting in the Southern Ocean – all boats must leave it to starboard.
It's been moved three times in Leg 5 in reaction to the ice movements.
As the fleet reached the ice limit for the first time on March 25, they also sailed past Point Nemo, the most remote place in the whole world, known as the Pole of Inaccessibility. That's also the time Dongfeng Race Team took the lead, sailing south and right next to the limit.
A gybing match ensued, with a manoeuvre every hour or so. That included some unwanted manoeuvres, too. Three teams went through a Chinese gybe – Team SCA, Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE.
By March 28, all boats were finally on one same tack, heading towards a rock they were dreaming of – Cape Horn.Rounding Cape Horn
Conditions were ideal to approach the southern tip of America, with northwesterly winds blowing 30 knots and the sea state being "relatively" flat with 2.5 to 3-metre waves.
In fact, the Emirati boat covered 550.842nm in 24 hours on March 30. This is the record so far in this race, and one that makes Azzam the winner of Leg 5 IWC speed challenge record.
March 30 was a fast day, but a bad one for Dongfeng Race Team who broke their mast. The Chinese team then headed to Ushuaia to assess the damage.
Later on, skipper Charles Caudrelier would announce their official retirement from the leg, and the delivery of the boat under jury rig by a reduced crew.
The following day, the first four boats rounded Cape Horn, Team Alvimedica in the lead. The moment was captured on camera, and you don't want to miss it.
Team SCA had gradually fallen to the back of the fleet, breaking their Fractional Code Zero during their Chinese gybe and suffering electronic problems. The girls finally rounded the Cape in uncomfortable conditions, with an even worst forecast ahead of them.
Official rounding times around Cape Horn:
Team Alvimedica – March 31, 1407 UTC
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – March 31, 1422 UTC
Team Brunel – March 31, 1523 UTC
MAPFRE – March 31, 1525 UTC
Team SCA – April 1, 1142 UTC
Coping with the South Atlantic
Think the route leading to the Cape was the worst part of this leg?
Well, you may want to read this blog from Alvimedica's Amory Ross.
"Survived the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn only to get absolutely destroyed off the coast of South America. This will be the most uncomfortable, difficult, and dangerous 24 hours of the leg without question, while we hammer ourselves upwind into 35-40 knots (41 right now) in a completely confused and unpredictable sea."
A front passed over the fleet, now led by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. The first four boats were still extremely close, though, with Team Brunel having destroyed their J1 beyond repair.
"This is a downer," said Louis Balcaen. "We were doing so well; we really, really came back. And now we will miss the main sail! Acid."
In a different weather system, Team SCA sailed some 580nm behind the pack.
Calms, gusts, calms, gusts. The weather didn't make for an easy approach of the finish line in Itajaí, a coastal city 1000km south of Rio de Janeiro.
On April 5, the day of the arrival of the first four boats, they were still within 5nm of each other, but the Emirati boat had made some small gains during the night. That was enough to keep MAPFRE under control and cross the line shortly before dusk, acclaimed by thousands of Brazilian fans.
"It's a fine line – knowing when it's right to push to the limit and when it's not," said a hairy, exhausted Simon Fisher on the dock. According to the navigator of the winning boat, Leg 5 was all about balancing safety and speed."We saw the opportunity to go for the 24-hour distance record and knew we had to go for it. After Cape Horn - with Dongfeng out of the leg - it was all about making sure we finished the leg in one piece."
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