​Spotlight: Leg 2 - The South Atlantic Challenge

27 February 2023

Race length: Approx 4,000nm

Air temperature: 10-30 c

One individual race

Days racing: 15-23 days (port dependent)

Where? South America to South Africa

The South Atlantic Challenge, otherwise known as Leg 2, is renowned as one of the most exhilarating and closely fought legs of the entire Clipper Race circumnavigation.

Formed of one single race over 4000nm in length, Leg 2 starts from South America and crosses the South Atlantic ending in South Africa, with the added tactical elements of a Scoring Gate and Ocean Sprint.

Famed as a white knuckle sleigh ride with some of the highest wind speeds of the circumnavigation, it's common to see boat speed records broken as teams surf down huge waves. In previous editions, teams have recorded boat speeds of over 30 knots as they take advantage of the Westerlies and the long, rolling swells of the South Atlantic.

Image: Crew working together on strategy of sails

For Race Crew, it’s a heady mix of adrenaline pumping conditions and highly tactical close-fought racing juxtaposed by impressive swooping Albatross and sightings of Whales.

Glenn Hayward, 2019-20 Race Crew on board GoToBermuda said: “When we signed up for the Clipper Race many us, perhaps all of us, were asked why we had signed up to leave our loving families and comfortable lifestyles to spend weeks or months at sea, in close quarters with people we had seldom met in a vessel with very few of the modern conveniences that we take for granted in the twenty-first century. Well, let me give you a taste of just one experience that draws us to this.

“As I write, we are holding friendly contests to see which watches can drive our boat at the fastest speeds through mounting seas and following swells in 50 knot gusts of wind. Each new record was met with whoops and fist pumps into the air. More common, though, was the sound of maniacal laughter as yet more waves of drenching grey surf crashed over and into the boat. Do these drenchings dampen our spirits; does the cold numb our enthusiasm for the race and our adventure? No, quite the reverse, we’re ready for more. This truly, to us, is heaven on earth.”

Image: crew face rough sea and cold conditions

What’s more, after thousands of miles of heavy weather racing, teams can find that winds can taper off and be fickle on approach to the finish port, adding one last hurdle to a challenging race.

A leg that keeps Race Skippers, AQPs and Race Crew on their toes, it is not uncommon to watch standoffs, match racing and fluctuating leaderboard positions right up to the finish line.

Clipper Race Director Mark Light shares his secrets to success: “The keys to a successful race are to position the vessel on the correct side of the approaching low-pressure systems but equally as important is the need to carefully monitor and look after the deck gear and sails. With lots of spinnaker work on this particular race there is a big emphasis on sail care and chafe management.

The Clipper Race crew will be able to helm the yacht in some fantastic surfing conditions and it will be some of the most exhilarating sailing they will have experienced on the journey so far.”

Image: View from the top

Whilst there is plenty of action on the race track, Leg 2 is a marathon rather than a sprint. Punta del Este Race Crew Jim Leafe said: “60 knots of wind, 9 metre waves, a 48 hours of helming marathon, 15 lines dragging aft, 3 reefs in the main 1 headsail, 5 cakes, 4 loaves of bread, 23 crew eating, sleeping, sailing and repeating!

“Endurance can be summed up as a person’s ability to suffer for undefined periods of time.

It’s mind over matter and applied focus, not physical ability alone. It has been something that has always fascinated us and we are experiencing it in sloppy bucket loads on this race. We love it, which is good because it will happen all over again in 24 hours.”

One for the thrillseekers, Leg 2 is a mental and physical test packed into 15-23 days of around-the-clock racing.

Want to experience it for yourself? With a final few spaces remaining, you could be lining up on the Leg 2 start line as Race Crew this autumn. To find out more about Leg 2, you can request further information or book an interview via the website and read more about the South Atlantic Challenge on the Leg page.

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