With the fourth leg starting today, we recap the brutal third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race which drew to a close with all seven teams sailing into Melbourne, Australia over the Christmas holiday. At the front of the pack was the Spanish team, MAPFRE, which has now taken the last two leg victories and has jumped out to a commanding lead in the overall rankings after three legs. Arriving overnight on Christmas Eve, the Spanish syndicate was followed into port by perennial challengers Dongfeng, who finished second into Melbourne. Nursing the boat into port with issues in one of their canting keels’ hydraulic rams, the team still managed to hold off Vestas/11th Hour Racing and Team Brunel, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
Leg 3 of this edition marked a return to the Southern Ocean for this part of the race, as previous editions had departed Cape Town and headed up toward Abu Dhabi, in the Middle East. With the seven boats leaving Cape Town on December 10 and stepping right into the demanding conditions of the Southern Ocean, Leg 3 seemed to take it’s toll on all of the teams. At the back of the pack, AkzoNobel ripped the mast track off their mast, and damaged their mainsail and battens during a jibe in 45 knots of wind. Unable to use the main for three days while effecting repairs, AkzoNobel bled hundreds of miles to her competitors — and a couple positions — which allowed both Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag and Turn the Tide on Plastic to move up a position into fifth and sixth, respectively.
A few days after leaving Cape Town, the fleet was overcome by a massive Southern Ocean low-pressure system packing around 60 knots at its peak. With teams positioning themselves in radically different places for the storm — farther north for less breeze and farther south for more breeze — all seven eventually consolidated down south against the race’s imposed ice exclusion zones, setting up a thrilling Southern Ocean one-design regatta. Pre-race favorites Dongfeng and MAPFRE have clearly embraced their roles as the two teams to beat in this race and fought each other tooth and nail, often within sight of each other, for the majority of the leg. Jibing almost every single hour at one point, the two teams put in a Herculean effort to remain atop the heap during the third leg, with MAPFRE only moving into the lead late in the race.
The fourth leg of the VOR will begins January 2 in Australia which means you can watch the start live in the US January 1st here. Leg 4 will take the teams 6,000 miles from Melbourne to Hong Kong. A new route to the VOR, this promises to be an incredibly challenging, complex and at times frustrating leg. Sailing up the east coast of Australia and then threading the needle through countless land masses, islands, reefs and islets spanning a number of different climate zones, Leg 4 promises to be incredibly complex from a navigational standpoint. AkzoNobel’s mast is out for repairs, while several crew and On-Board Reporters are being swapped out due to injury and fatigue after the brutality of Leg 3. We’ll check back in with the VOR once the fleet has departed Mebourne and is headed back to the tropics, the equator and finally Southeast Asia.