Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR), the Emirate’s entry in the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), safely rounded ocean racing’s most treacherous landmark – Cape Horn at the southern tip of Chile late last month. The team was placed at the second spot, 12 days and 4,500 nautical miles after leaving New Zealand on Leg 5 of the round-the-world race.
“The Horn’, as it is most commonly known, is located on Hornos Island – a remote and rocky outcrop in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago – completely exposed to the Southern Ocean storms that rage around the bottom of the world. Conditions were characteristically ferocious when the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority-backed yacht Azzam rounded at 14:22 UTC on Monday, March 30. A Southern Ocean frontal weather system packing 25 – 30 knot winds and driving up huge waves meant a white-knuckle ride as Azzam tore across the dividing line between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at speeds consistently over 25 knots, just behind Leg leaders Team Alvimedica.
According to Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker, safely passing Cape Horn without injuries or damage was paramount to the team’s position at this stage of the leg. “Cape Horn more than lived up to its reputation,” Walker said. “We have been sailing on the edge for the last 500. The waves are so big you can’t go around them so you have to go through them and the water down here is five degrees Celsius. It’s a relief to have got around in one piece.”
The same cannot be said for one of ADOR’s main rivals, Dongfeng Race Team, who broke its mast early on Monday in the final hours of the night, 240 nautical miles west of Cape Horn. Fortunately no-one was hurt, and the boat was heading towards Ushuaia, Argentina, under its own sail. The incident only underlines the dangers the crews face in the Southern Ocean, but with the Horn safely negotiated ADOR, currently the overall leader in the nine-leg, 39,000-mile race, is looking to consolidate this position with another strong finish in Itajai.
“We knew how important it was to get around the Horn in touch with the pack, unscathed and in a position to challenge for the leg win in the final 2,000 miles,” Walker said. “We kept reminding ourselves – you can’t win the Volvo Ocean Race on this leg, but you can lose it.” ADOR navigator Simon Fisher – making his second ‘Horn’ rounding – said the fearsome history of Cape Horn was impossible to ignore, and made rounding it, particularly in such extreme conditions, a major milestone for any ocean racer. “It’s a rounding that’s steeped in history,” Fisher said. “The Clipper ships racing to deliver tea used this route and like us they would have been roaring along at 20-knots and just itching for the chance to turn left at the Horn. The waves are simply massive down here. It’s great to have come through the Southern Ocean and after Cape Horn it all starts to get better.”
Remarkably, after 12 days of racing fewer than 20-miles separated the leading pack of identical VO65 one-design yachts at Cape Horn. For Justin Slattery, who now has five Horn roundings under his belt, this has been the closest Southern Ocean racing he has ever experienced. “Rounding Cape Horn is a huge milestone in professional sailor’s career and the significance doesn’t ever diminish,” Slattery commented. “This is one I will particularly remember – having this many boats charging around the Horn so close after a week and half of racing is just mind-blowing.”