As Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race neared its halfway point from Melbourne to Hong Kong, any memories of the freezing cold Southern Ocean had long been banished.
With every mile that the fleet climbs further north through the South Pacific, so the temperature of both the air and water rise too.
Gone are the days of wearing countless layers of weather-proof clothing in a desperate attempt to stay warm and dry. Instead, the Volvo Ocean Race sailors are battling extreme heat as they close in on the Equator.
The lack of breeze in the Doldrums only compounds the problem, slowing their progress through one of the most notorious climate zones for sailors. Usually lighter airs give sailors a chance to rest ahead of the next big blow but there’s no respite from the heat – it’s hotter down below than it is on deck.
“It’s probably a really nice, comfortable 50 degrees celsius downstairs and about 47.8 degrees up on deck,” said Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Phil Harmer with a wry smile. “The sea temperature is 32 degrees – it’s just a pleasure. Even the off-watch guys don’t want to be down below.”
The rankings in the fleet have as much to do with a boat’s position forward as it does its westerly position. The fleet is still heading north to break through the Doldrums, but once into stable breeze, the teams will turn left toward the finish. But this respite is still some 36 hours away.
Leg 4 – Position Report (19:00 UTC)
1. Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR), 3285.7 nm DTF
2. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Mark Towill (USA), 4.5 nm DTL
3. Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED), 5.4 nm DTL
4. Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED), 8.0 nm DTL
5. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA), 9.7 nm DTL
6. MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP), 10.6 nm DTL
7. Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS), 30.5 nm DTL
DTF – Distance to Finish; DTL – Distance to Leader
Beginning on January 2, Leg 4 is a 5,600 nautical mile race up the east coast of Australia from Melbourne, into the Coral Sea and up north to Hong Kong. The ETA for Hong Kong will be more certain after the boats clear the Doldrums but is penciled in for January 20 to 21.