The leading crews in the Volvo Ocean Race are currently in the middle of the most physically demanding hours of the race to date.
Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE are gybing back and forth as they zig-zag in an east-southeasterly direction, trying to stay as close as possible to the southern boundary of the race course, imposed by the Antarctica Ice Exclusion Zone (AIEZ) – a virtual line implemented to keep the crews away from dangerous icebergs.
"During the next 30 hours we are going to gybe at least every hour, so it's just a nightmare," said Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier.
The reason is simple. Gybing these boats takes all hands. The off-watch crew is wakened and either brought on deck to assist with the manoeuvre or stay below to shift all the gear from one side of the boat to the other. The entire procedure can take around 30 minutes of hard physical labour. And the leaders are gybing more than once per hour at the moment.
"It's not a pleasure. You have to stack everything, so you have to move about 600 kilograms," Caudrelier explained. "The boat is moving, you can't sleep, you have to change everything. It's just horrible... But on the positive side, we are ahead of MAPFRE and fighting for first place. So it's good!"
“We have been in visual sight of Dongfeng from the end of our night and all this morning, with both throwing gybes along the ice limit line, as winds are weak further to the north,” writes MAPFRE navigator Juan Vila in a report to race headquarters. “From early this morning we have so far done 17 gybes in less than 11 hours.
“All is good on board and morale is high, especially now we are back in touch with the leader.”
They should be happy. Yesterday at this time, the gap to Dongfeng was over 15 miles. 24 hours later it is just 5 miles.
At the back of the fleet, team AkzoNobel is back up to sailing at 100 per-cent after a second attempt at repairing the broken mast track held firm.
“We’ve loaded up the mainsail now and no dramas, it’s a way better job,” said Nicolai Sehested from on deck as he watched the sail load up. “We knew after we did this second one it would be a good one and now it’s holding.”
The team is sailing fast and making up miles; in fact, they’ve sliced their deficit by an incredible 125 miles over the past 24 hours.
That is partly a reflection of general compression in the fleet. The boats are all closer today than yesterday. But it’s certainly a good sign for team AkzoNobel as they try to get back in touch on the race to Melbourne.
Leg 3 – Position Report – Sunday 17 December (Day 8) – 13:00 UTC
1. Donfeng Race Team -- distance to finish – 3,103.3 nautical miles
2. MAPFRE +5.3 nautical miles
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing +53.3
4. Team Brunel +74.3
5. Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag +83.1
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic +133.4
7. team AkzoNobel +250.8