Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing won the race to the Equator late on Thursday and were in good shape to make the turning mark of Fernando de Noronha at the head of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as their six rivals were still playing catch-up despite finally escaping the Doldrums.
Navigator Simon Fisher (GBR/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing) has been his fellow Briton Ian Walker’s (skipper) key man for the past week as, first, he steered Azzam cleverly through the Cape Verde Islands ahead of the competition, and then guided them through the windless Doldrums in first place.
They now need to sail to Fernando, which is 200 nautical miles off the Brazilian coast, before turning at a 40-degree angle for the Roaring 40s, which will propel them headlong to Cape Town, the Leg 1 destination port, in the first week of November.
Fisher and Walker certainly cannot rest on their laurels yet. In the last edition in 2011-12, PUMA had similarly navigated this stage of the race in second place, before they were dismasted and forced to motor miserably to Tristan de Cunha, an archipeligo in the South Atlantic, before finally being shipped to South Africa.
Additionally, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have the added concern of second-placed Team Brunel (skipper Bouwe Bekking/NED) hot on their heels. By Friday at 0900 UTC, the Dutch crew were just 14nm behind and Team Vestas Wind (skipper Chris Nicholson/AUS) who were the quickest in the fleet in third spot thanks to stronger winds in their position further to the east.
All seven boats will have crossed the Equator by around 1300 UTC on Friday. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel did so before midnight (2200 and 2300 UTC respectively) and Team Vestas Wind at 0120 UTC.
It is traditionally a key staging post in the race and an experience the members of the crews who have never done it before will always remember.
Each will have to perform a special ‘ceremony’ set up by their crewmates to appease both them and the sea god, Neptune. The initiation has been conducted by seamen the world over for generations.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s onboard reporter Matt Knighton (USA) says he enjoyed it – in a special kind of way – even though he suffered a ‘reverse mohican’ hairstyle to mark the occasion.
“With the Equator trudging towards us with relentless persistence, the threat of my impending punishment and purification inched all the more closer with every sked (position report),” he writes.
“Since I was the only one on board who had not crossed the Equator before and was also American, I had a lot to atone for.
“But suffice to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends to be inducted by and I’m proud to be counted among their ranks.
“And I’m pretty sure my new haircut improves our aerodynamic performance."
With another 10 days or so before their estimated arrival in Cape Town, the race is still wide open with just under half of the 6,487nm completed in the opening leg from Alicante.
For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit: www.volvooceanrace.com