Sailing: Illbruck leads the migration south

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The Independent Online

By tonight the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will be moving towards the Cape of Good Hope en route for Sydney via the Southern Ocean. By tomorrow morning the forecast is for strong headwinds that will make the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world seriously uncomfortable as the eight navigators try to pick the best way south and into the Roaring Forties, where at last these downwind Volvo 60s should pick up the easterly-going low pressure conveyor belt that will blast them around the bottom of the world.

"Sailors carry out all sorts of rituals when they round Cape Horn," said Roger Badham, Grant Dalton's Nautor Challenge weather expert. "But the reality is that the area around the Kerguelen Islands is probably the most brutal part of the planet." The Volvo fleet will be in that area within a week.

The new-look second leg of this race poses some interesting challenges. Four years ago the course took the boats out of Cape Town and into Fremantle on the western coast of Australia. Tactically it was a relatively simple task of picking the angle to get to the big winds fastest, jetting east and choosing the moment to emerge into the Western Australian summer. With Sydney now the final destination, via the waypoint of the Eclipse Island on the south-west corner of Australia, not only is the leg more than 6,500 miles long, there are many more tactical hurdles to confront.

"People think that leg one was tactically complex," says Badham, "but in my opinion this leg is far more difficult: you have to cross the high pressure at least five times, which is effectively five potential parking lots."

But though the traditional nerves that surround the start of a Southern Ocean leg were evident in the faces of the crews dockside in Cape Town yesterday, every sailor is keen to get back out to sea and take on the South. Except one.

"I'm not looking forward to it at all," said Dalton, who is now on his seventh lap of the planet. "'I hate the Southern Ocean and you would have to be a masochist to enjoy it. I'm looking forward to getting to Sydney."

If race predictions prove to be accurate the leaders will nose into the finish at the Sydney Opera House in around 25 days time with the overall shape of this race very much clearer. As form-book favourites and first-leg winners, Illbruck remain the act to match. But while leg one proved that the likes of Amer Sports One, News Corp and Tyco are on the pace, the freaks of nature that finished the chances of SEB and Djuice Dragons so early in the leg and later dumped Assa Abloy mean very little as the fleet sets off again.

In the next two weeks the sailors are likely to be breaking speed records in what is reckoned to be a 10-day Deep South phase. After that the tactical issues will be more pressing as navigators decide when to head north for Eclipse Island and how far to dig back down south to look for big winds to cross the Great Australian Bight. After that it is on into the Bass Strait and up the east coast of Australia to Sydney. Four years ago the first five boats arrived into the Sydney Harbour within 10 minutes of each other in a breathtaking race for the line. But before the sailors in this fleet can begin to dream of that prospect, there are several mountains of physical and mental challenges to survive.

Meanwhile in the Atlantic, Mike Golding and Marcus Hutchinson surrendered the lead they had held for a week in the Transat Jacques Vabre from Le Havre to Brazil. The British pair's Ecover was overtaken by four boats overnight in capricious sailing conditions. Roland Jourdain's Sill now leads the race with Nick Maloney and Mark Turner on Kingfisher – now renamed Castorama-Darty-But moving up to third. Ellen MacArthur lies second in the multihull division.