Damian Foxall looking forward to facing former team-mate in Volvo Ocean Race

Specialist veteran has joined Donfeng, rivals of Justin Slattery’s Abu Dhabi Racing

This will be Damian Foxall’s eighth time around the infamous Cape Horn. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy/Inpho

In the aftermath of Cyclone Pamela now deep in the Southern Ocean, the six boats in the Volvo Ocean Race have started their deep dive into the remotest regions of the Earth.

Ireland's Justin Slattery on Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has company from home nearby as Kerry sailor Damian Foxall has joined the race as a specialist veteran for this leg on board Charles Caudrelier's Dongfeng.

With both teams tied for the overall lead, only the Emirati team’s performance as Inport Race Series leaders gives them first place with four of nine stages of the 39,000-nautical-mile race complete.

Team-mates in three previous campaigns, Foxall and Slattery will now be pitted against one another in what could prove the decisive leg of the race. As Walker said earlier in the week, to win this leg you first have to complete it.


"Justin and I caught up a couple of times in Auckland and they have a great boat and great team," Foxall told The Irish Times from Dongfeng as the Chinese-flagged entry started into the Southern Ocean.

“Going into this leg with big seas it’s expected that they’ll do well as one of the favourites.

"We not going to give them an easy time – we'll make it hard for them but I'm sure we'll see more of each other over the next three weeks before we reach Brazil. "

Fine line

Although the past two days have seen the new 65-footers averaging speeds of more than 20 knots in six-metre seas, for the next week the conditions ease enough to allow the boats to sail at or close to 100 per cent, though Foxall cautions that there’s always a fine line between seamanship and pushing the boats fast to stay ahead.

With the one-designs, there’s even more emphasis on pushing against the other boats close by.

Finding the right compromise is what this leg is all about as the fleet sails into steadily building breeze, he reckons.

“We started in flat water and little breeze and once clear of the East Cape, the big sea state has calmed down a bit so it’s really good to be out here racing again. Pretty nice sailing conditions, a nice easy start to the leg which is a big contrast to the last race.”

On the first night at sea three years ago, there was widespread damage and eventually only one of the boats completed the leg totally unscathed.

“The new boats are pretty similar to the old Volvo 70s. I’m going to have to adjust to the performance numbers when the wind starts blowing hard but it’s like being back at home again.

“I have to get up to speed with things like sheeting angles, especially with the outriggers that we didn’t have last time.”

Cape Horn will be Foxall's eighth time to round the infamous headland at the bottom of South America but the uniqueness of the landmark has not lost it's appeal despite hundreds of thousands of sea miles.

“Every time is special, every time is significant and with a new team, new race and a new boat is going to make it all the more enjoyable. Right now we’re surrounded by four other boats which is great fun!”

David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times