Auckland, New Zealand // Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Adil Khalid - the first Emirati to take part in the Volvo Ocean Race - said today's legendary 6,700 nautical mile Southern Ocean crossing from New Zealand around Cape Horn would be "a life-defining moment".
The three-week Leg 5 sees the teams pushed to the limit, facing mountainous seas and howling winds while racing from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil.
Despite the daunting task ahead, the 23-year-old Khalid said crossing the Southern Ocean is "why sailors sign up to Volvo Ocean Race".
"Whenever you hear anyone talk about the Volvo Ocean Race, it's the images from the Southern Ocean that pop into your mind. This is the race at its very best and most extreme. It is why we sign up; it is the sailor's rite of passage," said Khalid, who represented the UAE in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
"Make no mistake, it's really scary and my stomach's going around and round. There is a real subdued feeling here in Auckland. You know there is going to be a lot of action ahead of us, and we are in some of the most hostile and remote environments on the planet. If things go wrong, there isn't a lot anyone can do to help you. But this is the essence of the race, and we are ready."
On Leg 5, the six-strong fleet will be farther from civilisation than ever before, including passing Point Nemo, the world's most remote spot, more than 2,000 nautical miles from land in every direction.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is hoping the traditionally downwind leg will help the team revitalise their campaign as the leg plays in to the strengths of their state-of-the-art Volvo Open 70 race yacht, Azzam.
Sailing through the notorious Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties, where the winds consistently blow above 40 knots and conditions are more than capable of breaking boats, Azzam captain Ian Walker is more than aware of the task ahead.
Having pulled the mast rigging out of the water over the weekend to make sure it was "bullet proof", Walker - who navigated the team to a fifth-place finish in the Auckland In-Port Race yesterday - said that the first few days of Leg 5 could be make or break.
"I have to say our focus and attention is all on the weather forecast for the next 36-hours which is absolutely diabolical," said the 42 year old double Olympic medal winner. "We have to get through some atrocious conditions before we can get our teeth stuck into some downwind sailing. We have to prepare Azzam and our people for that as priority one,"
"This is it, crunch time. We have a lot to prove and where better to stake our claim than in the Southern Ocean."
Leg 5 began this morning at 5am UAE Time.
Featuring the classic Southern Ocean high speed sleigh-ride sailing for which the event is most renowned, it is the longest passage in the race.
The threat of ice breaking off from Antarctica has forced race organisers to implement an ice line to stop the fleet sailing too far south into dangerous waters.
And, after taking all the Southern Ocean can throw at them, the fleet must then round Cape Horn, one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world, where millions of tonnes of ocean are forced through a 400-mile wide gap between the South American continent and Antarctica.
CAMPER, the Spanish-sponsored team, who count Auckland as one of their two homeports, won the in-port race yesterday, with PUMA Ocean Racing just 54 seconds behind, followed by Groupama sailing team in the third podium spot.
Team Sanya, skippered by Auckland-born Mike Sanderson, sailed a terrific race to clinch fourth ahead of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and the overall leaders Team Telefonica, who between them had won all four of the previous races in the in-port series.
"The one thing we said all week was how do we thank everyone who has supported us," said skipper Chris Nicholson.
"I hope this goes a long way to thanking them.
"It's been a huge week of support and it's helped."
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