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Icebergs add to southern danger

Illbruck and iceberg
The fleet has been dodging icebergs for the past two days  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Boats competing in the Volvo Ocean Race have passed through a large ice field in the Southern Ocean, making for exhausting sailing during the past 48 hours.

The eight teams have been particularly wary of "growlers", small bits of ice that break away from the main iceberg.

"I have never seen ice on this leg of the course before. It's scary. I am seriously worried now with night approaching," said News Corp co-skipper and veteran round-the-world racer Ross Field.

As they approach Cape Horn on the fourth leg of the race, the boats are deep in the Southern Ocean, far away from land, commercial shipping routes and air rescue services.

Even though the boats are fitted with a crash bulkhead in the bow and watertight compartments, collision with ice could puncture the hull and leave the yacht in serious danger of sinking.

Compared with the icebergs that can be over 100 metres high and more than a mile wide, the growlers are smaller and partially awash, making then difficult to spot, particularly when travelling at high speed at night.

A constant watch is kept on deck as well as the radar.

"It is a little nerve wracking on everyone as we hit speeds of nearly 30 knots knowing that even a small piece of ice that would be too small to be seen on radar, could easily ruin our day," said Steve Hayles on Tyco.

During darkness the crews use night vision goggles.

Icebergs reflect light well with good ambient light conditions. A small amount of moonlight will create enough light to help see bergs at night, using an image intensifier such as the goggles.

Even when there is no moon the ambient light from stars will be sufficient to give a good picture with a decent image intensifier.

However, in rough seas when breaking white water can look like growlers and in cloudy conditions, which prevail in the Southern Ocean, problems can occur. Thick clouds can filter out nearly all light, making night vision goggles almost useless.

Grant Wharington onboard Djuice has been watching closely for ice.

"Just to add to the action we have two men on ice watch, one staring at the radar and another checking forward with night vision goggles. We passed many growlers during the day and saw many on the radar at night."

Assa Abloy's Mark Rudiger said it is difficult to see ice on the radar.

"I am pretty nervous about it. I hate that stuff. You are not going to catch me down here again with this much ice, that's for sure."

SEB, the furthest south in the fleet, was forced to slow down when they encountered the ice.

"We have been zig-zagging between the ice from time to time. The worst are the small bits, about the size of a car, the ones that you cannot see on radar.

"I am very happy the nights are short. It is very difficult to sail at full pace under these conditions, so we have slowed down a bit," said skipper Gurra Krantz.

Despite the constant fear of that moment of shattering impact, some of the crew still take time to appreciate the grandeur of the bergs.

'The last one we saw just half an hour ago was really beautiful," said Paul Cayard on Amer Sports One.


• Illbruck sets fast pace
February 4, 2002
• Illbruck faces threat in Volvo
January 25, 2002
• Excitement mounts on Volvo boats
January 31, 2002

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