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Life in the Danger Zone

A routine Southern Ocean scenario: crew members aboard djuice dragons manhandle their steed in some sloppy conditions earlier this week.
Musician Kenny Loggins didn't have ocean racing in mind when he penned the lyrics to "Highway to the Danger Zone," the song made famous by the movie Top Gun, but those words nonetheless apply in spades to the current action in the Volvo Ocean Race. It's the same title chosen to adorn a feature article by the media moilers who are chronicling the race for millions of on-line viewers at And it certainly appears to be a fitting label as the eight 60-foot entries in this globe-girdling contest endure their 12th day at sea on Leg Four from Auckland, New Zealand to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, amid howling winds and mountainous seas near the bottom of the planet.

Since early Sunday the conditions in this remote region have been punishing. Even the veterans of this event who have crossed these waters numerous times are employing superlatives to describe the experience in their e-mails. With that in mind, it seems the best way to offer SailNet users a glimpse of the action in this race is by letting the sailors speak for themselves. So here follows an assembly of quotes and images that we've culled from the boats over the past two days. If you're reading this at home, savor the comfort of your surroundings, and keep your fingers crossed for the safety of the VOR crews.

Ross Field, Navigator Team News Corp, 0831 GMT, 02/05/02—"I'm bloody worried. This is dangerous...there are icebergs everywhere. There are growlers floating nowhere near the bergs. We hit a small berg whilst doing 21 knots. I was steering and all I felt was a loud crash on the hull and then the rudder. The guys below then rushed into the bow and checked the interior but we appeared to be OK.

"At one stage, thank god during daylight, we were charging through hunks of ice. I had a man on lookout and directing me through the ice. We brushed when we passed some small bits.

"Its nighttime now and the off watch are huddled in the nav station looking at the radar.

"We have had a shocking daybroken sails, battens, and halyards. The boat's a shambles."
We have had a shocking day, broken sails, battens, halyards. The boat's a shambles, sails everywhere downstairs and the guys are sleeping in their survival suits. We are sleeping with our feet forward—if we hit something you don't damage yourself too much that way. A normal life looks very attractive at the moment. There will be amazing stories when we all get into to Rio. This is sport in the extreme."

Mark Rudiger, Co-skipper/Navigator ASSA ABLOY, 1425 GMT 02/06/02—"We had been running extremely hard all night in over 40 knots averaging over 20 knots boat speed for five hours when suddenly there was a huge unexpected bang! Guillermo [Atladil] did an excellent job controlling the boat in treacherous seas, while all hands wrestled the storm reacher below.

"Wow, so glad we still have the rig up and we are still in the race. This could have been the end for us. But this is definitely the fastest, wildest ride I've ever had in over 200,000 miles spanning 20 years of ocean racing!"

Looking somewhat shell-shocked, the on-watch aboard Team SEB prepares for the next onslaught of freezing water. This image was taken two days before the boat was dismasted some 1,200 miles west of Cape Horn.
Kevin Shoebridge, Skipper Team Tyco, 0625 GMT, 02/05/02—"An exciting day to say the least, full of Southern Ocean drama…Earlier today…we were sailing under Code 6 spinnaker with puffs up to 38 knots. We did a quick spinnaker drop and the plan was to re-hoist a jib for a few minutes to make the maneuver easier. While hoisting the jib the boat took off down a wave at 25 knots. A solid wall of water washed over the deck as the bow dug in. The jib and three of the crew ended back beyond the shrouds tangled with each other and the lifelines. How the jib stayed onboard I do not know.

"Nipper [Guy Salter] took a knock to the head and has received stitches above the eye, a nice fix-up job by Jan [Dekker]. Brad Jackson has a badly bruised nose, hopefully not broken.

"I now sit in the nav station looking for ice ahead and black squalls behind. We are constantly hitting speeds of over 27 knots and it feels liken we are on a runaway train.

"The boat is full of wet sails and water and sleeping is almost not an option. 1900 miles to cape horn, will it come soon enough?"

"Three times we have passed very close to growlers the size of a car....Russian Roulette is probably safer than this."
Gurra Krantz, Skipper Team SEB, 1013 GMT, 02/06/02—"I do not know what other people think, but passing growlers at night, boat speed 20-25 knots, within a couple of feet makes me nervous. Three times have we passed a growler, the size of a car, so close that the white water around it actually touches the hull! Russian roulette is probably safer than this. We had 21 large icebergs on radar one night. Four of them we had to alter course to avoid. How many growlers we have passed I do not know. Water temp 1,4 degrees Centigrade and snowing heavily at times. Sounds like the perfect world to live in doesn't it?

"We are the extreme opposite to News Corp, they are 200 miles north of us now, but at the last sked it was only two miles between us. It will be very interesting to see who gets to the [Cape] Horn first."

Paul Cayard, crew Amer Sports One, 0212 GMT, 02/06/02—"The antithesis of Volvo...completely irresponsible. That is how we behaved last night and so did most of the fleet, I imagine. As night approached the winds maintained 35-plus knots…. At the same time, the iceberg and growler count was growing by 10 per hour. We were sailing with one reef and the smallest spinnaker we have, so we felt fairly prudent about that. However, while watching the radar and seeing nothing, we sailed just 100 feet away from a growler that was 10 feet out of water. It was an ominous realisation.

Despite the confused seas, the crews look forward to the daylight hours when it's much easier to spot growlers and navigate through the ice fields.
"As there were only three of us capable of driving in these conditions, we decided to rotate every two hours. The first term went well with 36 knots top-speed and black darkness for just the last half hour. When I came up it was black dark and blowing 30-35 knots. Within 10 minutes of taking the helm a squall hit us with 40 knots.

"Very intense in the pitch black with huge, sloppy waves as you get down here. Then 15 minutes later I got a blast of 45 knots for three minutes. This was absolutely crazy. Hanging on until it passed, I told Grant [Dalton] that I could not do my full two hours of that intensity without serious chance of wiping out. I should have said that no one could, but I did not want to speak for the others. That was a mistake—and not using my experience.

"So as the next helmsman prepared to come up I got two more squalls of 45 knots plus. Southern Ocean 45 knots plus. With the temperature down here that is 50-plus everywhere else. I managed to hang on to this beast, which was hurtling through the pitch black of night, doing 30-plus knots at one moment, running into large objects at random (waves that I could not see).

"What would happen if we did hit an iceberg at 30 knots of boat speed? Maybe News Corp can tell us."
"As we caromed off these waves they would alter my course up to 15 degrees in a situation where degrees of course change can throw the whole boat out of balance. On top of all this, the growlers were still out there, we just did not happen to hit any. What if we did at 30 knots of boat speed? Maybe News Corp can tell us.

"All three of us Amer Sports One drivers, have strong cases of tendonitis in our hands now. Three fingers of my left hand are tingling numb constantly. I have lost 50 percent of my grip strength in that hand. Yet on we went. We just wanted to get to daylight and it would all be much easier. We needed about another hour and a half. An hour and a half after I grabbed the wheel I was so happy to give it up. I should have said, let's slow this bus down, we are in great shape, our house is neat and dry, no damage, etc. I failed to say that. So did everyone else.

"Thirty minutes into that last driver, onto our side we went. The gyration was so violent, that downstairs where I was sitting recovering, the engine box cover, which doubles as the companion way stairs, simply left its mount and landed on me. We got up on deck and found that the kite was shredded.

Icy water cascades across the deck and cockpit of illbruck, as the current race leader slogs its way toward Cape Horn.
"No sooner had we gotten the kite down and Roger [Nilson] yells up, ‘two icebergs ahead, four miles.' It was a blessing to have the kite down, but the width of the two bergs forced us to sail between them. This is not recommended in any book. Needless to say we had a few tense moments there, but we got through it unscathed. We pulled out a blast reacher and just chilled out for a few hours and took the 20-mile hit on the sked."

Marcel Van Triest, Navigator, Team SEB (1014 GMT, 02/05/02—"Hopefully we're getting out of this ice now because it's more than I've ever seen."

Steve Hayles, Navigator, Team Tyco, 0825 GMT, 02/05/02—"Please take note that when we start talking about coming back down here in four years' time that we should be locked away until we come to our senses."

Team SEB Dismasted

Word came from aboard Team SEB shortly after we published this article that the boat had been dismasted on Thursday morning. Between 0630 GMT and 0640 GMT this morning, the boat lost its mast after sustaining a break just above the boom. The crew had to cut the rig free and abandon it, but they managed to keep the boom, which was broken and a spinnaker pole, also broken. The crew is safe and the boat is not damaged; a jury rig has been erected and it will be improved at later stage.

The damage occured while in a 28-knot breeze with the boat going 17 knots, approximately 1250 miles from Cape Horn at approximately 58.12S 106.47W.

In a first message from the boat, skipper Gurra Krantz wrote: "We will await day light to be able to check that nothing is caught on the prop and then start the engine."

Speaking from Sweden, Pelle Norberg, Managing Director for the syndicate company within Team SEB said: "This is of course a very sad situation for us, but the most important thing in a situation like this one is that the crew and boat are safe."

The crew now plan to continue sailing under jury-rig to the closest available port in South America to conduct repairs. The closest boat in the fleet, Amer Sports Too, may be asked to divert its course and render assistance. 

For more information, photos, position reports, and updates, log on to the event's official website at

Suggested Reading:

Tracking the Volvo Ocean Race by Dan Dickison

Weather for 'Round-the-World Racing by Michael Carr

Volvo Ocean Race Preview by Dan Dickison

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