Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Boat-busting leg suits this sailor

BRING IT ON: Sailing in a part of the world very few get to see, the inhospitable Southern Ocean, is one of the reasons Camper skipper Chris Nicholson is doing the round-the-world race. Photo / Hamish Hooper
BRING IT ON: Sailing in a part of the world very few get to see, the inhospitable Southern Ocean, is one of the reasons Camper skipper Chris Nicholson is doing the round-the-world race. Photo / Hamish Hooper

Boats piggy-backed by armed ship through pirate-patrolled waters, 100-mile sprint legs, weather delays, heading north out of China to get south to Auckland - the Volvo Ocean Race so far certainly hasn't been your typical round-the-world race.

So while the crews will be put through the ultimate physical and mental test on the next leg from Auckland to the Brazilian city of Itajai, they are comforted by the fact that leg 5 will see a return to tradition.

The notorious Southern Ocean leg has been a mainstay in the 39-year-old race's reputation as the world's toughest endurance contest.

The passage through the planet's most remote and inhospitable stretch of open ocean will push team and machine to their limits, but Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said for all its challenges, the Southern Ocean leg is one he looks forward to.

"Some of the conditions we see in this next leg are perhaps some of the reasons why we do this race - fast running in parts of the world that only the smallest percentage of sailors get to see. That to me is something special about this next leg," he said.

The teams will set off on Sunday in conditions Camper co-skipper Stu Bannatyne describes as "pretty fresh".

The latest forecast is for a 30-40 knot northeasterly, but that could be bumped up even further on race day. Just getting out of New Zealand waters is going to be a test - curiously the conditions forecast on Sunday are worse than those that saw the start of leg 4 out of Sanya delayed.

But after protests from some teams, and general bemusement from the public, that a brewing storm could halt the start of the leg - the race is supposed to test man against the elements, after all - there've been no official moves to delay the start of leg 5.

It's a shame because this time around it's unlikely any of the teams would have argued against having a couple more days of rest.

With less than a week to regroup after finishing the punishing fourth leg from China, the teams have had to hustle in Auckland to be ready for what's likely to their toughest yet.

The shore crews have done an impressive job getting the boats back in the water for yesterday's practice races.

But there's no chance the sailors will get back to optimum physical condition for the leg. Just five days ago they arrived in port looking ragged, sleep-deprived and malnourished - almost unrecognisable from the men who left Spain five months ago.

As another member of the media put more bluntly: "They look like s***".

With a few nights of decent sleep under their belts, the crews are beginning to look a bit more energetic, but they've lost a lot of muscle mass over the first four legs.

But the next leg demands just as much mentally as it does physically.

On their way to Itajai the crews will face ocean swells the size of buildings, storm-force winds, freezing temperatures as well as taking on Chile's infamous Cape Horn.

Nicholson has confidence his "rock solid" team and boat will be equal to the task. So far Camper's VO70 yacht has proved one of the most reliable in the fleet, making them more suited to the gruelling Southern Ocean conditions.

"It's a delicate one," said Nicholson. "You stick your neck out and go 'yeah, we're rock solid, this boat's bulletproof', and those sorts of statements usually come back to haunt you.

"All I can say is in regards to the fleet we are a robust, reliable boat. But the conditions that are getting thrown up in here, anyone can break in them."

- NZ Herald

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