ALICANTE, Spain (Reuters) - Four boats in the Volvo Ocean Race fleet keeled over in the Southern Ocean on Tuesday as the fleet experienced its roughest conditions since the event started last October.
The all-women’s crew of Team SCA (Sweden), Dongfeng Race Team (China) and MAPFRE (Spain) all suffered ‘Chinese gybes’ – with the boats briefly tipped on their sides - during 12 hours of drama as they headed towards Cape Horn.
Another competitor, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, also endured a drama-filled night, reporting “a massive wipe-out”, although it was not pitched on its side in the same way as the other three.
No injuries from any of the crews were reported although the boats were assessing how much damage had been done in the incidents after they were returned upright.
“Due to a big wave, our boat was completely lying on its side," MAPFRE’s onboard reporter Francisco Vignale wrote in a message to shore.
"We were on deck and it was I who was closest to the water. Xabi (Fernandez) grabbed my jacket and helped me get out of this terrible situation.”
Charles Caudrelier, the French skipper of Dongfeng, also gave a graphic description of the toppling of his boat.
“This will be a great and amusing story to share over a beer or to my grandchildren in a few years’ time -– but last night it was hell,” he wrote.
A Volvo Ocean Race spokesman said: “For a while, it was real mayhem but fortunately, none of the sailors was hurt. All four boats were later able to return to sailing through the most treacherous waves encountered since the six-strong fleet set off in Alicante last October.”
They have now covered more than 2,000 nautical miles (nm) of the 6,776nm fifth leg. Team Brunel (Netherlands), which avoided any major problems, led at 0855 EDT by 11.1nm from overall race leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.), another boat to stay upright throughout, were third, 28.8nm adrift of Brunel, with MAPFRE, Dongfeng Race Team and Team SCA trailing them.
The boats are still expected to arrive in their leg five destination, Itajaí, Brazil, around April 4, having left Auckland, New Zealand, on March 18.
In all, they will cover 38,739nm, visiting 11 ports and every continent. There are nine legs in all.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar