Sailing: Icebergs, storms await battered Volvo boats

AUCKLAND, March 16, 2012 (AFP) – – Already battered after sailing halfway around the world, the Volvo Ocean Race teams face their toughest challenge yet when they set off from Auckland to Brazil, dodging icebergs and huge storms.

The first test will be a difficult in-port race on Saturday, when hundreds of spectator boats will pack Auckland Harbour to watch them on a technically awkward 60-minute race in predicted winds of 20-plus knots.

On Sunday, they set out on a 6,705 nautical mile sprint around Cape Horn and on to Itajai in Brazil, in conditions that will test them to the limit.

“It’s going to be very wet, very windy and very fast,” said Iker Martinez, skipper of overall race leaders Team Telefonica. “I’m excited to be going there.”

Telefonica hold an 18-point lead over French rivals Groupama, with Spanish/New Zealand team Camper a further five points behind. American team Puma are 43 points off the pace — but still not out of it — after breaking their mast on Leg 1.

With only six points going to the winners of the in-port race, Telefonica will take a healthy lead into Leg 5 regardless of Saturday’s result but once into the the Southern Ocean they could see their advantage under threat.

Waves of 12 metres and winds of up to 60 knots are forecast during the nine days it will take the boats to reach Cape Horn, and teams will use night-vision goggles to try to spot icebergs at night.

Stu Bannatyne, the co-skipper of Camper, said racing through the Southern Ocean was now more dangerous than ever.

“It’s far worse now because the boats are going so much quicker,” he said.

“When you nose dive or get water over the deck, the boat is travelling at a rate that can actually cause injury. We have to be very concerned about crew safety and looking after the team as well as the boat.”

Abu Dhabi and Sanya, in fifth and sixth place, will be cautious when they exit Auckland after being forced to make last minute repairs to their rigging.

Overall standings after Leg 4:

1. Telefonica (Spain) 121, 2. Groupama (France) 103, 3. Camper/ETNZ (Spain/New Zealand) 98, 4. Puma (U.S.) 78, 5. Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) 53, 6. Sanya (China) 22

str/jms


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