Published: Wednesday, 04 June 2014

It’s relatively easy to imagine the challenges one might face crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a Volvo Ocean 65. Dealing with storms, exhaustion, seasickness and feeling cold, wet and hungry 24/7 are a given, but few of us actually give any thought to less obvious dangers that are out there in the depths of the ocean, including other life forms…

Dongfengs Near Miss

“We had the scariest experience to date during the night when we came so close to hitting a whale, so close we could hear it breathing," says skipper Charles Caudrelier, “You can smell whales in the air but in the pitch black you can’t tell where they are. You can’t sense them in the water because very often when whales are at the surface it’s because they’re sleeping, so it’s a nasty surprise for both the whale and us! I just held my breath knowing how close we were to potential danger but, thankfully, we didn’t hit it – we just had a near miss...” says Caudrelier. “But all is well onboard. I’m very happy with how the Chinese guys appear to be coming into their own, they are showing true determination. I am especially pleased with how well Kong is doing considering he had less time to train than the other two. He has shown bravery and strength over the past 24 hours and I am very impressed. Onboard disappointment crept in as we realised that the high pressure in front of us had shifted, we tried to cross a front and it killed the wind from the west. We had light wind all day yesterday and as predicted at nightfall when the rain came we went from 10 to 40 knots in just a few minutes.”

Dongfengs Near Miss 1

Hitting (or narrowly missing in our case) a whale is one of the many lurking dangers of offshore sailing. “The most challenging part of the transatlantic for the team is the weather and technical issues,” explains the team’s Technical Manager Neil Graham. “The other night the team had 45 knots of wind but had they been in the centre of the depression they could have had up to 60 knots. This is something a Volvo Ocean 65 is equipped to handle but strong winds exacerbate problems, you only need a few things to go wrong and you’re in serious trouble.”

Four days into their transatlantic crossing, Dongfeng Race Team has covered around 700nm with 2,160nm to go. The latest routing predicts an estimated arrival on June 10 – a slower crossing than originally predicted, but the storm over the weekend and a problem with canting the keel today (likely to be an electronic gremlin) just goes to show life on the open ocean is never plain sailing.