Friday, March 24, 2006

Something missing

It was one of the traditions of the Volvo Ocean race - but not this one. The iceberg - a floating white mountain brooding on the horizon. Crew woken to take a look, to know they really are deep in the southern ocean (as if the chill of the water wasn't enough).

And the stories that go with the photos. Blasting downwind with an iceberg to the left, an iceberg to the right and beads of sweat on the helmman's forehead. Spotters on the foredeck and the sounds of growlers bouncing off the hull.

And not just the Volvo - the other races that venture into the south including the Vendee Globe have faced the same threat. Dee Caffari was recently becalmed in a field of six giant 'bergs.

This Volvo has told a different story. The northerly marks have led to frustrations of wind holes not the fear of ice. A bit of me thinks it's a shame - that we have lost something in the rush to be safe. The majesty of the iceberg has been banished from the management plan of a race for professionals.

But would even the thrill seeking armchair sailors, safe with their laptops and capuccinos, really want to see carbon fibre shells of a boat flying through rock-hard ice at 30 knots?

I remember my brother asking me to contact the organisers of the Around Alone 1994 - 95 to ask about the dad of one of his college friends. His name was Harry Mitchell and there was no news, ever. He was last heard of 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn.

There are enough thrills already - from keels dramas, near sinkings, and speeds of up to 40 knots, without bringing icebergs back. Better something missing than someone.

Graphic from Volvo Ocean Race 2002

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