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Race Dispatches
From Race Veteran Tracy Edwards
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The Volvo Ocean Race 2001-2002
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Leg 4: Auckland, New Zealand, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Dispatch 5: Iceberg Alley | Dispatch Archive
February 7, 2002

[Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit field dispatches.]

So, it’s off to Rio on the toughest leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. This leg sees teams take their second plunge into the Southern Ocean and of course takes in Cape Horn. This leg is split into two parts from a tactical and navigational point of view. The first part to Cape Horn is always dependent on how far south you go and more importantly how fast you get there. It is often an agonizing decision as to whether to stay north with a good breeze or head south which can leave you trailing for a while but could see huge benefits as you move into the low pressure systems and of course a shorter route.

Although the wind and waves are usually extreme and terrifying, it is not completely unknown to be becalmed in the Southern Ocean as we have seen with the teams on this race. It is a weird feeling to be in that desolate place with no wind.

The other problem that the crews face on this leg is icebergs. The big bergs can be seen and are not a problem. It is the growlers, or bergy bits, as we used to call them, that can rip the hull of these boats apart if hit at a high enough speed.

The fleet, having stayed so close during the first few days of this leg, are now spreading out. The decisions made during the first few days will now affect the spacing between the boats as they race towards Cape Horn and the next section of this leg.

Cape Horn is often believed to be the worst part of the race but is, in fact, a relief when you get there. It means you are coming out of the Southern Ocean and the weather is going to improve and get warmer! However, I remember on Maiden that we nearly sank going past the Falkland Islands. So it’s always better not to count your chickens.

The crews will become extremely tired on the leg as the past few months catch up with them, and they deteriorate at a faster pace than on previous legs. Weight loss in the Southern Ocean can be extreme, and this of course affects the physical and also the mental state of the teams. The focus will now be Cape Horn and more importantly, who gets there first!

—Tracy Edwards

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Assa Abloy crew members experience the fury of the Southern Ocean during Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race.   Photograph by Richard Mason

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