Sailing: Cold and wet now - just perfect!

Neal McDonald reports from onboard <i>Assa Abloy</i> in the Southern Ocean
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The Independent Online

Here we go again! Back into the Southern Ocean, cold, wet, tired out and scared out of our minds! Why the hell do we do it? It's my third time down here in under 12 months – I must be totally mad.

Here we go again! Back into the Southern Ocean, cold, wet, tired out and scared out of our minds! Why the hell do we do it? It's my third time down here in under 12 months – I must be totally mad.

After the idyllic weather that followed us for the first few days of this leg, our whole world turned upside down in the space of 6 hours yesterday afternoon.

Gone were the blue skies, warm sun and flat water – in with the murky grey mist, freezing howling wind and huge confused seas. We managed to get as far south as 51 deg with out even getting our feet wet – a pretty unusual trip. Then it all came to an end – we knew it was coming.

Rudi, our navigator, had been tracking it and timed the arrival of the wind to perfection. Into our first night of breeze with 33 knots and mast–head chute and every thing felt fine. The race had kept the fleet pretty tightly packed and these weather conditions, close racing and such a competitive fleet have provided the best sail boat racing I have come across ever.

Last night while smoking along in near survival conditions in what must be the most desolate and isolated waters in the world we had all hands on deck preparing for a gybe when out of the spray and dark we suddenly became aware of a red bow light!

SEB had gybed right in front of us – we went by only a boat length's behind at a rate of 18 knots. Quite an amazing sensation to have another boat so close out here, in such a lonely place.

Five days into the leg and we have a slipped into our routine easily. The watch system has settled down, the cooking and eating of food is sorted and the boys appeared to have got into the habit of taking their 20 or so daily pills that help provide all the minerals and vitamins that our freeze dried food does not. New Zealand seems far away now – but not nearly as far away as Cape Horn!

As each boat battles its way across the southern ocean they will all have their own little problems to deal with – ripped sails, broken fittings, worn out bodies and all other manor of issues to consider.

So far the fleet remains tight but doubtless as time goes on one or two boats will drop back and a couple of others will slid forward. We are going to try to be one of the boats that moves ahead. Hopefully by sailing hard, positioning our selves correctly and not crashing or breaking too much we will be able to do so.

Still over 3000 miles of wild ocean to cross before we get to the Horn –what a thought – even then it will be far from over!

Neal McDonald is the British skipper of Assa Abloy, which won the third leg of the nine–leg Volvo Ocean race around the world. They are one week into the fourth leg, from Auckland to Rio.

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