Image © Thierry Martinez/team AkzoNobel
Team AkzoNobel has set off from Auckland, New Zealand on Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race - a treacherous 14,000-kilometer voyage through the wilds of the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn to Itajaí, Brazil.
The nine-person team AkzoNobel crew left Auckland in fifth place in the seven-boat Volvo Ocean Race fleet after sailing conservatively during the short inshore section of the course on Waitematā Harbour today.
A huge spectator fleet took to the water for the leg start at 1400 local time in New Zealand (0200 CET) and accompanied the fleet as the boats streaked spectacularly past Rangitoto Island in around 15 knots of wind and out into the Hauraki Gulf.
Ahead lie 18 to 20 days of intense racing through the remote and storm-tossed waters of the Southern Ocean close to the frozen wastes of Antarctica.
Eighteen days ago team AkzoNobel sailed into Auckland at the front of the fleet to win Leg 6 of the eight-month, 83,000-kilometer around-the-world race. The result moved the team into fourth place in the overall standings with five legs still to race before the finish at The Hague in the Netherlands in June.
Now the sailors hope to be able to mount an attack on the podium with a strong result in the leg to Brazil which is the longest in the race and counts for double points. An extra bonus point is on offer for the team that is first around Cape Horn.
"With so many points on the table this leg could be a game changer for any of the teams," said team AkzoNobel watch captain Chris Nicholson (AUS). "We have some momentum behind us right now and we are all very focused on keeping that going with a solid result in Brazil."
Although weather conditions were close to perfect for the start of the leg the crews are expecting a pounding on their first night at sea as headwinds over 30 knots are expected to churn up huge waves overnight.
After clearing New Zealand's East Cape the fleet will look to make a pronounced dive south aiming for what is nicknamed as the "storm track" - the unobstructed area of ocean at the bottom of the globe where intense storm systems rage unchecked around the world at speeds up 50 kilometers per hour.
"We know we need to protect the boat early in the leg," said skipper Tienpont.
"Any damage early on could seriously hamper us once we are down in the south where we need to be able to hook into a storm front and ride it as far and as fast as we can. To do that we need the boat and the crew to be 100 per cent."
Helmsman and sail trimmer Luke Molloy said the crew was taking on the daunting leg with confidence after nearly three weeks of unstinting effort by the team's technical shore crew to overhaul the boat from stem to stern.
"It's the best the boat has been since it was new," Molloy said. "That is really important as we take on what is an epic leg of the race in some of the toughest conditions we have experienced so far."
"There are several teams - us included - who need a good result in this leg to make a challenge on the leading teams. That means everyone will be pushing themselves and their boats hard all the way to Brazil.
"We are wary of the conditions, but a race is a race and we want to get there first."
Air and wind temperatures are expected to dip as low as six degrees Centigrade in the lower latitudes with the effects of wind chill resulting in toe and finger numbing cold for the sailors on deck.
Estimates based on the latest weather data predict a fast passage for the fleet with the leading boats expected to reach Cape Horn at the southern tip of Chile in around 11 days.
Although the crews will likely breathe a sigh of relief to be exiting the Southern Ocean the route north to the Brazilian city of Itajaí could also prove taxing as the teams negotiate swirling ocean currents and strong unpredictable katabatic winds plummeting down from the towering Andes mountain range.
"We have an overall game plan for the leg," said Chris Nicholson. "The extra point for being first at the cape could prove very useful but after that there are something like 1,800 miles of racing to the finish where positions can easily can change."
"It's going to be a tough leg for sure but we are also looking forward to some fun fast sailing on the way to Brazil."
Team AkzoNobel Leg 7 crew list:
Simeon Tienpont (NED) - skipper
Brad Farrand (NZL)
Justin Ferris (NZL)
Martine Grael (BRA)
Luke Molloy (AUS)
Emily Nagel (BER)
Chris Nicholson (AUS)
Jules Salter (GBR)
Nicolai Sehested (DEN)
Watch Chris Nicholson's Leg 7 preview: