Thursday, 3 February 2011
Point Nemo and Cape Horn await ocean racers in race to Punta del Este
Le Pingouin downwind in breeze. Image copyright Ainhoa Sanchez/onEdition.
by Sarah Hames
HOWLING winds and mountainous seas, the most remote place on the entire planet and the infamous Cape Horn – that is what lies in store for the VELUX 5 OCEANS racers during ocean sprint three. The 6,000 nautical mile leg from Wellington, New Zealand, to Punta del Este in Uruguay will see the four ocean racers head deeper into the Southern Ocean than they have been yet.
Along the way the skippers will face waves up to 30 metres tall and winds that will consistently blow between 25 and 40 knots and often more. They will also pass Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the world, more than 2,000 nautical miles from land in every direction. After surviving all the Southern Ocean can throw at them they must round Cape Horn, one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world, where millions of tonnes of water are forced through a 400-mile wide gap between the South American continent and Antarctica.
Ocean sprint three is arguably the most dangerous leg of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. Numerous sailors have had their races ended trying to pass through this section of the Southern Ocean. Some lost their lives. In the 1990/1 edition of the race South African John Martin hit a submerged iceberg on his approach to Cape Horn and was rescued by fellow countryman Bertie Reed. During the 1994/5 event 70-year-old Briton Harry Mitchell was lost at sea trying to fulfil his dream of rounding Cape Horn.
Current VELUX 5 OCEANS competitor Derek Hatfield survived a dramatic capsize near Cape Horn in the 2002/3 edition of the race. Most recently in the 2007/8 Vendée Globe, Frenchman Jean Le Cam was rescued after his yacht lost its keel and turned upside down near Cape Horn.
After setting sail from Wellington at 2.30pm on Sunday, February 6, the ocean racers will dip south straight away to get into the strong to gale-force westerly winds that characterise the Southern Ocean. Once down there it should be a typical Southern Ocean passage – big following seas and fresh to strong winds pushing them towards Cape Horn.
The Eco 60s will be set up for heavy weather sailing, sails reefed right down, and they will be going fast. These boats are capable of speeds of up to 30 knots surfing down the giant Southern Ocean waves and they could easily travel over 350 nautical miles a day. In good stable surfing conditions the Eco 60s could sit between 15 and 25 knots of boatspeed for hours on end. En route to the Horn they will pass Point Nemo, the most remote point on the planet, thousands of miles from land, civilisation or help.
After making it through the deadly Drake Passage, between Cape Horn and Antarctica, the skippers will feel like they’re nearly home and dry but it won’t be over by any means – the last section of the race will be a different challenge altogether. The racers will then be on the opposite side of South America to the prevailing winds, and that huge land mass with its mountains influences the weather patterns. The last 1,300 nautical miles up to Punta del Este will be characterised by tricky sailing that could see variable winds from constantly changing directions. The skippers will have to work hard right until the very end of the sprint.
Ocean sprint three starts from Wellington Harbour at 2.30pm on Sunday, February 6.