The Volvo Ocean Race teams were feeling the full strength of the Southern Ocean as they were pummelled by winds gusting as high as 50 knots and surfing down mountainous waves.

The deep low-pressure system that has been forming for the past few days has now engulfed the seven crews, forcing them to switch from all-out racing to a more conservative mode. Nevertheless, boat speeds rocketed to an incredible 38 knots as the Volvo Ocean 65s were launched down the faces of enormous Southern Ocean rollers.

The low pressure system responsible for the hammering is vast, stretching almost 1,500 nautical miles from the tip of South Africa to just a few hundred miles north of Antarctica. It represents the biggest challenge so far in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, and, although Leg 3 from Cape Town to Melbourne is still in its early stages, the decisions the teams make now could have serious consequences on the results.

Mirpuri Foundation “Turn the Tide on Plastic” Team

The unpredictability of offshore racing is constantly keeping us on our toes, however the one thing that can be guaranteed this race are the conditions that await the fleet in the Southern Ocean. Cold, wet, miserable, dangerous and slightly surreal – the hostile environment of the Southern Ocean is a challenge for even the most experienced sailors.

Needless to say, with 70% of her team having never been to this part of the world before, Dee Caffari has more on her mind than just winning.

“Everything is feeling just a little more fierce down here. The cold snap in the temperature didn’t go unnoticed, the rain is a little heavier and colder, the wind is biting and has increased significantly. Welcome to the Southern Ocean, it takes no prisoners.”

With a 200 nautical mile north-south separation in the fleet, the pressure is on, not only to get to Melbourne first but also in one piece. The logic behind the split is to either opt to go North, escaping the worst of the weather or to head South and take on the impending storm (the quicker but more risky route).

This is what the decisions from each team looks like so far…Caffari and her young team have opted to go north in the hope of avoiding the worst of the weather, however this particular storm is 400 nautical miles wide and avoiding it totally would be impossible.

Despite being one of the most experienced, talented and respected sailors in the fleet, the reality of this leg is starting to sink in for Caffari as she reports from the Southern Ocean in a brutally honest email. “I have had bad guts for 24 hours and I was thinking it may have been something I have eaten or drunk, but that is highly unlikely. If I was honest it may be the responsibility sitting heavy on me to make the right decision and get boat and team through the next 48 hours unscathed. It is turning my stomach in knots and something I have never experienced before.”

The next few days will be critical, not just for the outcome of the position reports but also for both crew and boat.

Photo credits: Jeremy Lecaudey