Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) – the emirate’s entry in the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) – has established a seven-point advantage at the top of the overall standings after winning the marquee fifth leg in the epic, round-the-world race, from New Zealand to Brazil.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi)-backed crew, skippered by double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, crossed the finish line in Itajaí at 16:30 on Sunday April 5 after more than 18-days of non-stop ocean racing.
During the 6,776 nautical mile leg from Auckland, Abu Dhabi set a new 24-hour distance record for this edition of the race. Making the most of a near perfect wind and wave combination on the approach to Cape Horn – they clocked up a blistering 550.82 nautical miles over a 24-hour period.
“This is a hugely satisfying result,” an exhausted but elated Walker told the near 10,000 spectators on the pontoon in Itajaí. “You always have to be wary of the Southern Ocean and this time was no different. We saw some of the most ferocious conditions any of us has seen – but we stayed strong and made it through. Setting a new IWC speed challenge record was a massive bonus!”
And Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman, TCA Abu Dhabi was also delighted with the result, saying: “This leg of the Volvo Ocean Race has been incredibly exciting to follow. From the very start, it has been a tremendous contest through some of the harshest conditions our planet has to offer and Azzam has triumphed. I am incredibly proud of the team. All the crew have represented our emirate with distinction and has received their just rewards with another hugely impressive result.”
ADOR started the leg as overall race leaders tied on points with the Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team. However, disaster struck for Dongfeng on Day 12 when they snapped off the top section on their yacht’s mast, forcing them to divert to the Argentinean port of Ushuaia, before ultimately retiring from the leg.
“Our hearts go out to the Dongfeng crew,” Walker said. “It’s hard to know where the red line is for these boats until you cross it – and by then it’s too late. We wish them the very best of luck in getting back in the race as soon as possible.”
ADOR’s victory – its second in this edition of the race – maintains the team’s unbroken run of offshore podium positions and establishes a seven-point cushion at the top of the overall leaderboard.
The start of leg five was delayed by almost three days due to Cyclone Pam off the coast of New Zealand. conditions were light for the start but the fleet was soon into fast sailing conditions; 30-knots winds and a confused sea-state made life onboard Azzam difficult as the rocketed eastwards among the leaders.
A few days later however – uncharacteristically for a Southern Ocean leg – the fleet ground to a halt in flat, calm conditions. Only Team Brunel escaped the clutches of the light winds allowing the Dutch team to slip away into a 20-mile lead before the strong winds returned.
From then on, conditions became increasingly tough, as the fleet dove down into the storm-ridden, ice-strewn lower reaches of the Southern Ocean on the approach to Cape Horn – the most notorious of the world’s southern capes and the gateway back into the perceived safety of the South Atlantic Ocean.
ADOR navigator Simon Fisher said the leg had been as much about sailing smartly as it had been about sailing fast – a skilful balancing act between the need to push hard enough to stay with the leaders while avoiding damaging key equipment.
“It’s a fine line – knowing when it’s right to push to the limit and when it’s not,” said Fisher. “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.”
The final 2,000 miles from Cape Horn past the Falkland Islands to Itajaí remained very challenging.
“The sea state after ‘The Horn’ was as bad as I’ve experienced,” said Justin Slattery who had just made his fifth rounding. “We regularly saw the wind spike over 50-knots, so we backed off a fair bit to save the boat from slamming in the waves and to protect the sails and mast from the shock loading. First and foremost we knew it was crucial we finished the leg.”
The extreme conditions slowly moderated over the final five days of the leg as lighter winds ahead of the fleet compressed the four-boat pack and narrowed ADOR’s lead. At dawn on the final day just 10 miles separated the top four as Walker’s men led them to the final 100 miles.
“The racing has the same intensity as an inshore race with boat on boat tactics rather than large-scale navigational decisions deciding the final outcome.”
After a day of nervously covering the chasing trio as the winds progressively faded on the approach to the Brazilian coast, the ADOR crew finally hooked into solid southerly winds for the final 10 miles and crossed the line a little over six miles ahead.
After such a punishing leg the ADOR crew will get some well-earned downtime with their families as their shore crew get to work on restoring Azzam to peak condition.
The Itajaí In-Port Race is scheduled for April 18 with the start of leg six to Newport, USA on April 19.
by TCA Abu Dhabi