It’s the longest leg in the race’s history and it comes just a fortnight after what was probably the toughest. But when asked for their thoughts on leg five, the fleet’s sailors rubbed their hands for reasons other than the Qingdao cold.
“Can’t wait,” said PUMA’s Andrew Cape.
“Southern Ocean is what this race is all about,” beamed Damian Foxall of Green Dragon.
“We needed a rest but now we are looking forward to Rio,” added Telefonica Blue’s Xabi Fernandez.
When the dock-lines are cast off on Saturday, there will be 12,300 nautical miles of sailing ahead before that sun-soaked stop. It’s a voyage that includes an equator crossing, Pacific sailing, South Ocean charging, two scoring gates, potential world records and a Cape Horn photo opportunity.
The fact it could take anywhere between 35 and 40 days is widely acknowledged by the crews, but so too is the fast, downwind sailing and the complex strategic options that will likely determine the winner.
“It’s a mix of everything,” Cape said. “It’s half the way around the world, a long shift.”
“You have to cross the Pacific, going from north to south, then back up to the Atlantic,” Foxall added. “The first part of the race is a very long one, through the Pacific, which in itself is about three or four sections. Then down through the trades, across the Doldrums, back into the trades in the South Pacific and ultimately onto the train in the Southern Ocean. I think it will be a very strategically complex with regards to the weather. Possibly the most complex.”
It promises to be a burden on body and mind, but it has its perks.
For Rob Salthouse and several others it is Cape Horn.
“The Cape is always one that every yachtsman wants to do,” he said. “Last time (onboard Tyco in the 2001-02 race) we went past with spinnakers up in 15 knots of breeze. Let’s see what it gives us this time.”
For Tom Addis, the Telefonica Blue navigator, it will be his first offshore trip of longer than a fortnight and his first rounding of the Horn.
“Really looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s going to be a long, long leg, but after a while one day just runs into the next. It takes a bit of extra body maintenance, but it’s one of those things you always remember doing.”
For Simon Fisher, whose role has changed from Blue’s navigator to their helmsman and strategist, the leg gives him a chance to see some more sights.
“I’m taking more of an on-deck role and that is something I’ve really missed recently,” he said. “With the change to the three-hour scheds you don’t get much time on deck when you’re navigating. With this next leg being so long, and with so much varied sailing, it will be great to be on deck.”
For Ericsson 4 and their two Brazilians – skipper Torben Grael and Joao Signorini – it will take them home.
“It will be very special for us Brazilians onboard,” Signorini said. “Last year I spent only 10 days in Brazil and I am very excited and motivated to get to Rio first.”
For the leaderboard, this leg promises much. Ericsson 4 holds a seven-point lead over Telefonica Blue, but 16 are available for a team that wins the leg and reaches the two gates first.
“This leg could throw the race wide open,” added Fisher. “There are a lot of the points on the table and anyone could get them. It’s a pretty open race.”
To that end, Fisher and his team-mates are feeling confident. They changed their rudders this week – and therefore paid a three-point penalty – but expect that their downwind performance will be substantially improved in a leg that offers a lot of running and reaching.
“I think we will be much improved,” Fisher said. “Hopefully there will be a big difference in performance,” Fernandez added.
Ericsson 4 have taken note of the change. “They have learnt a lot about their boat from the first leg and have made a lot of changes to sails, technique,” Ericsson 4’s Dave Endean said. “They will be very tough to beat. PUMA is also very strong in downwind stuff, their boat handles well and they can push pretty hard.”
He added: “We were pretty conservative in the last leg because we wanted to make sure we were in one piece. This leg has got Ericsson written all over it and we will give it what we’ve got. There are so many points available still that we need as many as possible.”
In all, a lot is promised. As Foxall said: “I wouldn’t want to miss it.”