Ocean racers to take on Southern Ocean in sprint to Wellington
THE second sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS solo round the world yacht race got underway from Cape Town today bound for Wellington in New Zealand. With the iconic Table Mountain providing a stunning backdrop, the fleet of five international ocean racers crossed the start line beginning a gruelling 7,000 nautical mile sprint across the Southern Ocean through some of the worst weather conditions known to man.
The original start of ocean sprint two had been planned for Sunday but it was postponed due to gale-force winds and huge seas off the coast of South Africa. The VELUX 5 OCEANS race committee constantly monitored the weather forecasts until they felt there was a suitable window in the weather to allow for a safe race start.
The fleet set sail from Cape Town in their 60ft Eco 60 yachts in around 15 knots of breeze from the South East. Canada’s Derek Hatfield on Active House was the first to cross the line, with a strong start that will make-up for his poor start in La Rochelle. He led the five impressive ocean racing yachts out of Table Bay and into open water where the wind dropped considerably in the shadow of the mountain. Tactics will now come into play with all five skippers trying to find some breeze to take them on.
Sprint one winner, Brad Van Liew on Le Pingouin followed Derek over the line, and a smiling Christophe Bullens on Five Oceans of Smiles Too was third, with this his first start with the entire fleet obviously meaning a lot to him. Gutek (Zbigniew Gutkowski) and Operon Racing was next and finally Chris Stanmore-Major aboard Spartan who struggled to get his main sail up and lost momentum on his way to the start line.
Prior to leaving the dock, ocean sprint one winner Brad Van Liew could not be drawn on his tactics for the next leg. The 42-year old American has twice competed in the VELUX 5 OCEANS prior to this event, winning class two in the 2002/3 edition of the race.
“I’m just going to go out there, sail my boat and try to stay safe,” said Brad, skipper of Le Pingouin. “Safety is the key to this leg. I’m very competitive by nature so I will just see what happens once I’m there. I’m not going to go out all aggressive with a bone in my teeth. I think I’ll just get stuck into it and let the cycle of the leg do its own thing.”
Canadian ocean racer Derek Hatfield, skipper of Active House, was facing up to the prospect of Christmas alone at sea. “It will be a bit emotional but I will be able to call in,” the 58-year-old father of four said. “It’s a special day at home but for me it’s just another day racing. All the days meld together so when you’re alone at sea there is no real special day. It’s just another race day.”
Howling winds, freezing temperatures and mountainous seas await the skippers as they head south from Cape Town into the notorious Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties, named so because of the sheer force of the winds that are found in those latitudes. The Southern Ocean is the only ocean in the world that is not constricted by land allowing waves and wind to mount up as they circumnavigate the globe unimpeded.
Run by Clipper Ventures PLC, the VELUX 5 OCEANS started from La Rochelle in France in October and features five ocean sprints. After heading from La Rochelle to Cape Town, the race is now headed for Wellington in New Zealand. Following that the race takes in Salvador in Brazil and Charleston in the US before returning back across the Atlantic to France. The 2010/11 edition of the race is the eighth its 28-year history.
Brad Van Liew:
“The second leg is a tough one to prepare for mentally because it is so different to leg one. This time round we have to face extreme winds and seas and cold. I’m definitely more apprehensive than I was at the start in France. This leg is about getting down south and once you’re there there’s only one way to go. It’s a bit like jumping off a high dive – you’ve just got to commit to it. It is a daunting leg to get into. I’m just going to go out there, sail my boat and try to stay safe. Safety is the key to this leg. I’m very competitive by nature so I will just see what happens once I’m there. I’m not going to go out all aggressive with a bone in my teeth. I think I’ll just get stuck into it and let the cycle of the leg do its own thing.”
“You never want to be too over-confident with these things because it can be the kiss of bad luck but the boat is ready and I am ready to leave. The weather is making everyone a bit nervous and going into the south you can’t underestimate the weather. I have been there twice and it’s one of those places that if I never went to again I wouldn’t feel too bad! First of all you don’t want to go there and as soon as you get there you want to get away from it. I feel a bit of nervousness but I just have to put it to one side and get on with the job and get through the start. The start is always a nervous time because you have boats romping around on the start line often in breezy conditions and also each skipper wants to be the first across the line. It’s important to get across the line cleanly and then settle things down, get into a routine, get round the Cape and then south of 40 degrees into the westerlies and then high-tail it to Wellington and be there right after the New Year.
“Leg one was a bit of a trauma for me because I struggled through the first couple of weeks before I found my stride. I found myself in third place and a little bit behind. I was able to maintain third place but I’m hoping for better positioning in the next leg. I’m not saying I’m going to be first or second necessarily but I am hoping to be nearer the front and pushing harder and be a lot more competitive.
“I don’t feel too bad about spending Christmas away from my family. I have been away for Christmas before – all these major ocean races seem to involve being away for Christmas. It will be a bit emotional but I will be able to call in. I know the kids will be with Patianne and their grandparents and having a good time. It’s a special day at home but for me it’s just another day racing. All the days meld together so when you’re alone at sea there is no real special day. It’s just another race day.”
“I’m a little bit nervous about ocean sprint two because of the weather conditions and also the boat is not yet 100 per cent ready so I am a little bit stressed. The good thing is I know the boat better now than I did when I left La Rochelle. In that respect the second leg should be easier for me.”
“The big challenge of ocean sprint two is going to be the conditions, the terrain we will be going through. The Southern Ocean is mountainous; it’s part of the world where the seas can orbit without stopping. You get huge seas building up, massive winds, and waves that are taller than the top of the mast. It’s going to be very hard on the boat and very hard on me. We’re going to get the best the Southern Ocean has got to give. I face it with some trepidation but I have a lot of confidence in my boat. I think she will be good for it. I am going to take it very gently. You can’t compete for the overall results if you don’t make it to the finish line. As we came out of Spain in leg one I was second and I had Brad in my sights. If I can keep my errors down and my boat in one piece then there’s a chance I can get to the front.”
“For the next leg it’s totally different to the first leg. In comparison, the first leg was easy. The Southern Ocean is storm conditions nearly all the time. You’ve got to keep the boat in one piece. Safety comes first, and then the speed of the boat. For sure I will be looking out for Brad and the other guys and trying to make the best tactical decisions but staying safe is the top priority. It’s really easy to break something out there and if you do, you’re on your own with no help.”