Justin Slattery’s Volvo Ocean Race Log: Reaching Cape Rienga first will help gain control

Saturday finish on the cards for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing but strong chance we’ll have one final shut down in wind

Justin Slattery onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing steers away from the fireball in the sky at sunset nearing the equator during Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s premier ocean yacht race for professional racing crews. Photograph: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images

Did I mention previously that a week is a long time in ocean racing?

The last seven days have been like a game of snakes and ladders with the elastic between all six boats in the Volvo Ocean Race stretched and snapped before being stretched again.

A week ago we were preparing to cross the doldrums once more as we head southwards on leg four from Sanya to Auckland.

And we got the doldrums with long patches on windless zones squeezed beneath towering clouds that formed as we watched for them. Studying these is an art form but calling a route around these holes wins and loses races.


And just after we thought we were clear of the doldrums as the breeze picked up and we were rocketing along again at 20 knots of boatspeed, we hit another patch of doldrum-like conditions.

It was the “doldrums’ doldrums” as our navigator on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Simon “Sci-fi” Fisher dubbed it.

And it was exactly where Bouwe Bekking’s winning streak on Team Brunel came to an end after almost a week of dominating the leg when their bold move north and east of the fleet back at the Strait of Luzon at the Philippines paid off.

The restart that I last week suggested might happen did indeed come to pass with five of the six boats all lined up on an east to west axis as each boat picked through the clouds to find maximum pressure and keep moving forward.

After 4,000 miles of racing, it was an impressive feat and testimony to the well-matched boats.


Sam Davies

and the girls on Team SCA were also staging a comeback of their own that almost paid off as they swooped in from astern, crossing from the North-East towards the western end of this virtual start-line.

But despite closing to within 15 miles of the other five who were all less than five miles apart, the breeze freshened slowly across the fleet and one by one the new leaders pulled away once more.

The elastic band was getting plenty of wear.

A fresh leaderboard was actually a return to a more familiar routine between ourselves and Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng, the overall – by just one point – race leader.

The pair of us are neck and neck as we charge towards Cape Rienga, the northernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island.

Whichever one of us gets there first is likely to control the lead as we head down past the Bay of Islands and into the Gulf of Hauraki leaving just a few miles to the finishing line in Auckland.

It looks like we’ll probably finish sometime on Saturday depending on what way the breeze holds up but there’s a strong chance we’ll have one final shut down in wind as the centre of a high pressure system will be placed directly overhead.

That could prove to be a final throw of the dice for the standings in this leg though whether it’ll be a lifeline or not for the boats at the back remains to be seen as they have around 60 miles to make up.

Ourselves and Dongfeng are within sight of each other while Xabi Fernandez on Mapfre is further back. Then there's a bigger gap to Charlie Enright's Alvimedica, Brunel and Team SCA.

Until the finish, it’s looking like a drag-race at a fast point of sail with the wind coming from the east, square on to our course which means a reach for us which we like. We think we have a slight speed advantage at this angle.

Meanwhile, life on board has improved immensely with the drier conditions allowing my bug that I’ve had since before the leg start almost three weeks ago to clear up completely apart from a slight cough.

The boat is dry and pretty neat with all the gear packed away.

But it’s still very hot and the sea temperature is over 30 degrees so below decks is still quite oppressive.

Conditions on deck would be super for cruising, shorts and T-shirts mostly when it’s light airs but obviously with hats and lashings of sun cream.

Full battle dress

However, spray or the slightest hint of waves breaking over the deck, the oilskins come out: full battle dress even with blue skies. The sea-water dries quickly on the skin leaving dried salt which quickly becomes an irritant leaving a rash that easily becomes infected.

Although the odd bit of spray is okay and a quick wash-down with fresh water when going off-watch deals with that, the big risk comes with chafing when between skin or skin and fabric which is incredibly painful even with moisturising lotions.

It’s part of our routine and a long way from a holiday.

We have had a break from the intensity of racing however as Alex Higby, our reserve crew-member who stepped in to replace Adil Khalid who was ill crossed the Equator for the first-time.

A 20-minute ceremony is demanded of all sea-farers who dare cross King Neptune’s territory is required to pay homage to the Master of the Deep lest we incur his wrath.

The usual fare of left-over food, bilge oil and other unidentified substances is fed to the equatorial novice along with other humiliations to avoid any ill-luck befalling our boat.

So far, so good it seems and the next 48-hours will be the test.

We heading to one of my favourite cities in the world, one where I spent many months training for my first Volvo race over decade ago so it’ll be almost like coming home.

Auckland is known as the City of Sails.

Will it be our city this weekend?