CAPE TOWN, Jan 6 (Reuters) – The fleet of the Volvo Ocean Race all entered the perilous Southern Ocean on Friday, with ABN AMRO One skippered by New Zealander Mike Sanderson still holding a slender lead.
Sailing downwind and riding on the face of big swell the entrants have picked up the pace in the last 24 hours although the risks have also multiplied.
ABN AMRO One, winner of the first leg from Spain to South Africa, is a mere 16 miles in front of Paul Cayard’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
But very little separates the five remaining boats on the 6100 nautical mile leg from Cape Town to Melbourne.
ABN AMRO Two under French skipper Sebastien Josse is 30 miles behind the leader with Team Movistar (Bouwe Bekking) 77 miles off the pace.
The threat of icebergs has increased since the last staging of the race four years ago with many large chunks of ice being been seen further north over the past few years.
All the teams reported that they had eased their pace slightly despite the good winds to ensure safety with over 5000 nautical miles of the leg remaining.
The boats are all sailing in an easterly direction between 42 and 43 degrees south but in a quest for speed some skippers might decide to head further south where the winds are stronger.
If they carry on east at the same latitude they risk running into a lighter breeze and being physically closer to the first ice gate.
If they dive further south they hit the big winds but increase the danger to the boat. In past races it seemed that the further south they dared to venture, the better the boats performed.
This time round, there may have to be a compromise between the two options, as the new breed of boat seems to revel in wind speeds between 25 and 30 knots.