It was hard to find anything but a nervous smile in the faces of the crews taking part in the fifth leg of the BT Global Challenge. Sir Chay has no doubt put the frighteners on with some personal testimony and several minutes nail-curling onboard footage shot in the Southern Ocean during previous editions of the race. This, combined with the crews’ own harrowing memories of the Roaring Forties from the third leg and the suitably drab Sydney weather, succeeded in dampening everyone’s mood.
“Obviously this will be our second time going into the Southern Ocean,” said Isle of Man skipper Lin Parker. “A lot of people saw quite a lot of winds and waves in the first Southern Ocean leg. One of my major challenges is to take that fear or apprehension away from them. It’s going to be colder this time. The chances are it’s even going to be windier this time. It’s going to be the toughest leg we’ve seen so far.”
“The biggest challenge is having to go back to the Southern Ocean again,” concurred Team SpirIT skipper John Read. “Everyone has done it once. It’s like having been in a battle and having to go back and fight again. It’s not particularly pleasant.”
The potential for disaster was on everyone’s mind, and not purely during the forty days or so they will spend crossing the southern Indian Ocean. “I went to look at the start line: it’s minute, as is the start box,” said Olympic Group skipper Manley Hopkinson. “And if there’s any decent breeze, controlling boats and turning in tight circles is going to be exhilarating to say the least. It’s obviously lessons learned from the last one. It is going to be an exciting period.”
Perhaps most concerned was Quadstone’s new skipper after Alex Phillips’ departure, Richard Chenery. “I’ve been here three days but it feels like a lifetime. We had a really good sail across – a real good shakedown,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight start in a very small start box, it’s going to be seriously worrying.” Logica’s Adam Tuffnell summed up everyone’s thoughts: “We’re not going to push as hard as before, after the Quadstone-Kids incident.”
Indeed, the only one relishing the plunge into deep southern latitudes was Olympic Group’s Annee de Mamiel. Despite, or perhaps because of, being diagnosed with cancer before the race began, she has thirst for experience and adventure that outstrips any fear these icy wastes might hold. “It’s going to be really sad to leave this beautiful harbour, knowing that we’re going into this vast, vast wilderness, but it’s going to be so packed with excitement as well,” she chirped. “Going into the Southern Ocean is what it’s all about.”
Once in the start box, the situation wasn’t as bad as many feared. Very light winds, the absence of two boats (Veritas returned to the dock to jury repair a broken vang turning block padeye at the base of the mast) and recent memory combined to make the start collision-free -unlike the last visit here in 1997. Logica was close to making a fabulous start but was in danger of OCS and had to bear away. BP crossed but in the light airs she misjudged how much leeway she was making and hit the pin end. Her subsequent 720º left her well behind. Olympic Group and Norwich Union crossed successfully.
The fleet spread across the harbour with most choosing to cross Rushcutter’s Bay. Compaq however was making excellent progress just off Bradley’s Head. Sydney-sider Will Oxley’s local knowledge catapulted them into an early lead and the other boats soon converged in her wake. Team SpirIT was first to benefit from the stronger northwesterlies funneling round the Heads and she rounded the Wee Chay buoy – sponsored in honour of his son Chay by Serco Chairman Richard White – off Balmoral Beach in first place.