Camper co-skipper Stu Bannatyne has described conditions aboard the boat as "horrendous'' as the Volvo Ocean race fleet heads towards the Southern Ocean.

The Emirates Team New Zealand boat has taken a battering from six metre seas and winds in excess of 40 knots. The conditions were so extreme that Bannatyne, a six-time Ocean Race competitor, described them as, "without a shadow of doubt one of the toughest beginnings of a Volvo leg I've ever done - just horrendous''.

With conditions easing, a report this afternoon had Camper in third place, 14.9 nautical miles behind first-placed Telefonica. However, the fleet must now cross a ridge of high pressure that is likely to bring light airs and potentially compress the field before the boats can get into the classic heavy weather running conditions that the Southern Ocean is renowned for.

Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said the conditions of the last 48 hours have been incredibly hard on the boat.


"The boat has been taking a pounding since the start. We saw a little bit of 45 knots last night. It was dark so I imagine it was about a three-metre sea state, but it was quite confused so we weren't ever really able to land the boat softly at all. It's difficult to comprehend how hard we've been coming off waves.

"When we get above 35 knots, we have to slow the boat down a bit to get through it. It's 25 knots at the moment and is slowly easing back into the low twenties so things are improving.

"There wasn't too much survival mode, just a little bit of a taste of things to come, I think, as we hit the Southern Ocean and the Roaring Forties.

"As soon as we have the right amount of sail area up we're pushing 100 per cent. At the moment we've got the hammer down, full on.

"[On deck] you can't stand up. If you move anywhere you're crawling around on your hands and knees, clipped on. Every little job that we take for granted normally is now a bit of a procedure.

"Everything has a high level of difficulty with it. Just to go over to the leeward side of the boat to ease a sheet the driver has to ease up a little bit otherwise that person gets washed down the deck.''

Overnight, race organisers expanded the ice exclusion zone north, after satellite images revealed icebergs near the predicted race course. The decision could change the leg significantly, said Camper navigator Will Oxley.

"Unfortunately they've moved the ice gates north by 120 miles. That changes things quite a lot and is pretty disappointing.

"The high pressure is around that latitude so the whole leg is much different - much lighter and more headwinds. It's a drag, so we'll have to figure out how to deal with that. It's not good when it happens like that during the leg.''

Abu Dhabi, which had to return to Auckland soon after the start due to damage, was forced to shelter from the storm last night but is now racing again.