As the fleet speeds eastwards towards the loneliest islands on the planet – the Kerguelen Islands in the middle of the Southern Indian Ocean – the crews of the seven Volvo 60s now actively racing in the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world know they are headed for territory that is not only cold but where the average wind speed is 37 knots. This is an isolated part of the world where speed records fall and where racing campaigns are subjected to the most intense scrutiny. The leaders are due to pass the Kerguelens some time tonight.
Already there has been one casualty. In the middle of last week the crew of Tyco heard two loud bangs that heralded the end of their competitive leg. Tyco's rudder was threatening to fall off and a bitterly disappointed skipper, Kevin Shoebridge, who has mastered the Southern Ocean many times as lieutenant for others, was forced to turn his crew around and head back to South Africa.
At the end of the first leg Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One arrived in Cape Town with small rudder issues – the blade had slipped down a couple of centimetres from the hull – leading to speculation that rudders might become a talking point in this race.
Tyco, with both the upper and lower rudder bearings shattered, is motoring up-wind and is due to arrive in Port Elizabeth either today or tomorrow with few options open to Shoebridge other than to ship the boat to Sydney, the only consolation being that there is no further loss of points whether the boat is sailed or shipped across the Southern Ocean.
Meanwhile up front Knut Frostad's dJuice Dragons is blazing along and yesterday set the highest 24-hour run of the race in a move that blew the Norwegian boat past Assa Abloy and into the lead. dJuice reeled off 404 miles, still 40 miles short of the record set by Lawrie Smith in this same stretch of ocean four years ago, a race record that is unlikely to last more than a few days. Further south News Corp, which suffered early on by heading south too soon, is blasting along in 34 knots of wind from the west. "We're sitting on 19 knots, surfing in 30 and everything, including the toothbrushes, is stacked down the back of the boat to keep the bow out of the water,'' said navigator Ross Field.
News Corp is down at 51 degrees south and threatening to move up from fourth place. Having wrestled themselves into the lead and with haunting memories of a disastrous first leg, Frostad is coming down from the north at 50 degrees south to cut News Corp off and protect his lead.
In the South Atlantic, Ellen MacArthur and Alain Gautier continue to charge west at an average of 24 knots with a 20-mile lead in their trimaran Foncia Kingfisher in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Mac-Arthur and Gautier had been vying for the lead in the two weeks since the race began in Le Havre and, barring breakages, should be able to hold on to their lead until Tuesday when the leaders are expected in Bahia, northern Brazil.
In the 60-foot monohull class Roland Jourdain appears to have an untouchable lead although the British continue to intrigue as Mike Golding and Marcus Hutchinson, sailing Ecover, are just a mile ahead of Nick Moloney and Mark Turner sailing Casto-Darty-BUT. The two boats have been sailing in sight of one another for nearly four days.