They thought they were lining up for a quick, relatively easy first stage of Leg 7 – but Tropical Storm Alberto had other ideas, quickly changing direction and turning the downwind sailing of Day 1 into a survival situation sailing straight into 35 knots of gale-force winds.
Only leg leaders Groupama escaped, benefiting from an early gybe east, but for the five chasers it was a different matter altogether as Tropical Storm Alberto swallowed them up, raining down lightning bolts all round the fleet.
In his latest blog from Azzam, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker describes the chaos.
“What a day,” Walker said. “The whole fleet with the exception of Groupama were caught out when the tropical depression Alberta changed course and moved south east over the top of us. We were trying to ride the windshift and extra wind just to the south of it but a violent windshift headed us straight into the eye of the storm.
“There then followed a chaotic 12-hour period as we ended up on the wrong side of it beating upwind in 35 knots. All of a sudden instead of a fast ride east to the south of the storm we were right in it and in survival mode with three reefs and a heavy weather jib.
“We came off some terrible waves but most worrying of all was the lightning. The lightning was crashing all around right down to the water and it didn’t seem possible our carbon mast could avoid a direct strike.
“Nevertheless, we escaped as we managed to sail back on ourselves to the favored side and eventually again get on our way. Groupama outsmarted everyone by gybing earlier and staying away from Alberta and cashed in a 70-mile lead.
“Thankfully things have settled down now and after an entire day of seemingly non stop sail changes we are now enjoying smoother water and steadier winds. Everyone is tired as it has needed pretty much all hands on deck all day long.
“To make things worse we have a couple of bad backs on board that are suffering and one of us took a fairly hard blow to the head when he got washed back off the foredeck.”
For the complete story, go to www.volvooceanrace.com.