A massive one kilometre-wide iceberg has forced the Volvo Ocean Race to change the positioning of their ice gates to keep the fleet clear of trouble in the Southern Ocean on Leg 5.
The berg was heading towards the path of the six-strong fleet, so organisers and their advisers, French company CLS and Dutch weather expert Marcel van Triest, opted late on Thursday night to move the current ice limit route further to the north.
The main iceberg is not the only concern. Growlers – pieces of ice that have broken away and float semi-submerged in the icy cold water – are also a major threat to the fleet.
A new higher resolution image for the relevant area will be delivered to Race HQ on Sunday, but this new information will not necessarily lead to further re-positioning of the ice limit in that area (from 150W to 115W).
The race has pre-set ice gates, or ice limits, on this leg to keep the fleet clear from icebergs. Race management can change them according to conditions as the leg unfolds.
Boats will be penalised if they sail over these boundaries towards hazardous areas.
Meanwhile, organisers have brought forward the most likely arrival time for Leg 5, destination Itajaí, from April 7 to April 4 after the fleet made surprisingly rapid progress through the first 1,000 nautical miles (nm) of the 6,776nm stage from Auckland to Brazil.
The boats have been flying through the South Pacific and out into the Southern Ocean at a consistent 20 knots thanks to the effect from the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, which caused such devastation the previous week and led to at least 13 deaths on the archipelago of Vanuatu.
Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) continued to lead the fleet early on Friday (1240 UTC), with Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) closest on their tail, some 20nm behind (see panel).
It was very early days, however, in the longest and most treacherous leg of the race, and MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP), Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA), and Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) were all still very much in the hunt.
Caudrelier, however, was on Friday predicting the most challenging of all legs for his inexperienced crew after surprising many by joining Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at the top of the leaderboard on eight points after four legs.
“There is a long way to go and it looks complicated. Although the leaders will stretch away in the short term, in the mid-term it looks like those at the back will come back – so maybe not catastrophic,” he wrote from the boat in a message to his team.
“Regardless, this leg will be the hardest for us as we have less experience on board than any other boat in the fleet.”
Maybe, but he has recruited the hugely experienced helmsman Damian Foxall (IRL) for the leg – a crewmate of Caudrelier onboard 2011-12 winners Groupama. That could yet prove a very canny decision as the fleet navigates through such challenging waters.