ALL POINTS NORTH
The first milestone of leg five was achieved yesterday, when Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) led the fleet through the first of two scoring gates on leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race, to collect the maximum of four points. The team now has 53 points in total and a lead of 8.5 points over Telefónica Blue in second place. PUMA is just half a point behind the blue Spanish boat in the third podium position.
Hot on the heels of Ericsson 4 at the gate was Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE), who started the leg seven hours after the rest of the fleet left Qingdao in China nearly three weeks ago.
Immediately after passing through the gate, Ericsson 3 made the brave move to point their bows north again, causing Simon Fisher to comment: “We will have to see if their plan was genius or madness.”
Ericsson 3’s navigator, Aksel Magdahl explains: “Until some 24 hours before we tacked away at the 36 south scoring gate, everything looked good to go due south close to New Zealand, with the high pressure system expected to move off to the east. However, 18 hours before the gate, I realised that this high did not seem to move so fast anymore. I was also looking at a very interesting small, but powerful low pressure coming in from the north east, and I thought a bit around whether it was a possibility to use this rather than going slow south underneath the high pressure and even risking getting too close to it.”
The whole fleet has now made the same move. All except Telefónica Blue, who is the southernmost boat in the fleet and is trapped, still waiting for the wind to shift in order to tack. But, on distance to finish, this puts Telefónica Blue into the lead.
“We were the latest to make the decision to turn, which has its pros and cons,” says helmsman Simon Fisher. “We are probably risking lighter winds than the others, but may get a better shift… We all wait here with baited breath once more.”
The reason for heading north is to avoid the ridge of high pressure, which is blocking the way to the strong westerly winds in the south that everyone was so looking forward to. Instead, this could mean sailing upwind for at least another 1000 miles in order to pass north of the high.
“What is up with this leg? I had envisioned us screaming along in the roaring forties and pushing hard to break our 24-hour record soon after passing the first scoring gate. Instead, here we find ourselves, sailing upwind in an easterly breeze and contemplating how to negotiate a tropical cyclone that lies ahead. For God’s sake, we are below 40 degrees south! Give us some downwind sailing and let these Volvo 70s do what they do best,” writes a disappointed Ryan Godfrey from Ericsson 4.
Telefónica Blue has also been sailing heavily reefed while the crew glued patches onto the bottom half of the mainsail, which had completely delaminated.
“It plays on your nerves as you know you are sailing slow, but you just have to be patient, there is nothing you can do,” said skipper Bouwe Bekking.
The next milestone on this 12,300 nautical mile marathon will be the first of two ice gates located southeast of New Zealand at 47 degrees South between the longitudes of 155 west and 140 west. The second gate is set approximately 1,500 nm west of Chile at 45 degrees south between 120 west and 105 west.
In both cases, the intention is to keep the fleet north of known ice masses, and, in both cases, a team must be on, or north, of the designated latitude at some point between the two stated lines of longitude.
“It means the fleet can cross through the gate from south to north, or from north to south, or just stay north of the gate,” explains Race Director Jack Lloyd, who adds that the net result is that the fleet will be directed north. Telefónica Blue is approximate 916 nm north west of the western end of the gate and 114 due north of the Chatham Islands.
Meanwhile Telefónica Black, one of two yachts to retire from leg four due to damage, has arrived at the Marina Da Gloria, the site of the Rio de Janeiro stopover, after being shipped from Singapore.
Skipper, Fernando Echávarri/ESP said, “We are going to spend two weeks repairing the boat and then we will have several days to train and check before the in-port race on 4 April.” The sailing crew will be based in Rio during the next few weeks to help the shore crew and Echávarri himself will arrive on 15 March to oversee the repair work.
Leg Five Scoring Gate 1 positions
1. Ericsson 4: 00:21.09 GMT 04.03.09: 4 points
2. Ericsson 3: 00:53.09 GMT 04.03.09: 3.5 points
3. PUMA: 01:03.24 GMT 04.03.09: 3 points
4. Telefónica Blue: 03:16.22 GMT 04.03.09: 2.5 points
5. Green Dragon: 04:31.49 GMT 04.03.09: 2 points
Leg Five Day 20: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTF 6,687 nm
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +8
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +10
Green Dragon IRL/CHI (Ian Walker/GBR) +54
Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) +106
Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) DNS
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) DNS
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) DNS
ERICSSON 3 LEG FIVE DAY 15 QFB:
Pretty much since we entered the area with lighter winds about five days ago, if I remember correctly, we have been racing closely with Puma.
It is always fun to have a boat that you can measure speed and height against. It keeps the level of racing higher and makes the race more fun, both for the people following us from land and for us onboard. How fun is it to only look at a piece of paper with numbers that tells you if you have done well or badly?
Well, there is nothing like the real thing, when you can actually see your opponent and every five minutes take out the compass as see if we have gained or lost bearing. That makes it really exciting and all the sailors stay 100 per cent focused at all times.
But now the level of excitement has jumped up a couple of levels. Or should I say the level of worry.
The nerves are almost on the outside of some of the guys now. Before the last position report, the guys on deck were counting the minutes for it to arrive, wanting to know whether the other teams without doubt are going west of the Fiji islands.
We are getting closer and closer to Fiji now and we have to choose side. The wind has looked steadier on the east and we have been fighting for height the last couple of days to get there. Now it looks like the easterly option will force us to tack and sail on starboard for a couple of hours, which will not feel very good. You can take a shortcut between some islands but the waters there are unchartered and we do not want to end up in the same situation as we did last leg, when we entered the “Dangerous ground” area.
The next 48 hours will be extremely interesting. The guys that go west may get stuck in wind shadow or, if they are lucky, get pressure and a north westerly shift that will give them a good pace. On the east side the wind is more steady, but if that option means a 12 hour starboard tack while the others are going downwind, it might be a hero to zero situation.
Gustav Morin – MCM
Tuesday 17 February 2009 16:30 GMT
By Cameron Kelleher
For the 2008-09 race the presence of the Media Crew Member (MCM), an 11th pair of eyes and ears on board, has proven invaluable in telling it like it is.
The fly on the wall of a Volvo Open 70 in the shape of an MCM has generated acres of compelling footage, photographs, audio and emails. The MCM doubles as resident chef, so he is required to magic haute cuisine from bags of freeze-dried food when he’s not serving up sound bytes.
Since all are accomplished sailors in their own right, it must surely be tempting to down tools when confronted with the brutality of 50-knot gusts and 14-metre seas as happened on Leg 4. But that is when the MCM turns embedded reporter.
“As a Media Crew Member, it is more black and white than for the sailors,” says Ericsson 3’s happy snapper, Gustav Morin.
“When it’s windy you are full on. That is the best time to take stills and video and, at the same time, you need to pump the bilge out every hour. It is also the most important time to send media material, since everyone on land wants to know how the boats and crews are coping with the heavy conditions.
“When it’s calm weather you still need to take pics and video, but everything is easier since the boat is not rocking like it was in an earthquake.”
All of that drama is captured and transmitted via race partner Inmarsat’s network of 11 satellites in geostationary orbit 35,786km above the earth.
But for the beginning of this leg, in what is a planned shuffling of satellite orbits, Inmarsat’s Fleet Broadband will be unavailable until 24 February. As a result, it has not been possible to send video from the boats though audio, emails and images will be unaffected as will position polling and safety communications.
HIGH-SPEED ‘FLYING’ INTO THE PACIFIC
“….36 knots of boat speed.”
The islands of southern Japan are now safely behind the Volvo Ocean Race fleet and the five teams have now plunged into the Pacific Ocean on their way southwards towards New Zealand, which must be left to starboard.
“The boat was practically flying,” said MCM Gustav Morin as Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE) took off in a 40-knot gust, reaching 36 knots of boat speed. “When you reach speeds like that, you know it isn’t going to last for long. King Neptune usually puts an enormous wave in front of the boat on occasions like that, just to see some action and make his everyday life, looking at a deserted sea, a bit more fun,” added Morin.
“It has been a tough 36 hours, with winds in the 20s and 30s (knots) and lots of pressed- up reaching. The decks have been awash and it has been survival suits, lifejackets and harnesses all round, day and night,” wrote Ian Walker from fourth placed Green Dragon.
Walker is missing the helming skills of his Olympic partner John Merricks, who was tragically killed in 1997. Today would have been John’s birthday. “How he would have loved to have been doing what I am now. We could have done with his driving skills onboard last night as we fought to keep control at up to 30 knots of boatspeed in the pitch black. He was one of the best heavy-air sailors I ever sailed with or against,” Walker said.
The high-speed reaching conditions have been boosted by four-knots of the warm-water Kuroshio Current, also known as the Black Tide, but there is little chance of any passing lanes on this course of sailing. King Neptune has continued to amuse himself by testing the fleet in any way that he can. Thankfully, for now, the white water spray that is constantly dousing those on deck is relatively warm, due to the Black Tide, but that will change once the fleet is in the Southern Ocean in approximately 14 days time. The water temperature has risen from six degrees to just over 20 degrees centigrade in 24 hours.
Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) leads PUMA by 16 nm. During the night, as the team passed Korea, they saw two Japanese boats fishing together. At 25 knots of boat speed, it was too late to alter course and the team sailed straight between the two, hoping that they were not connected. “Ten seconds later, we could breathe again and keep on going, looking for the next group,” explained trimmer, Horatio Carabelli/BRA.
PUMA has had some problems onboard including snapping a wheel in half when ploughing into the bottom of a big wave, and a mechanical issue with a steering quadrant. “A loss of about 15 miles over a couple of hours, but a small price to pay now that we have peace of mind that it is all fixed,” said skipper Kenny Read/USA/.
Overnight, Ericsson 3 passed Green Dragon and the other later starter, Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED), is also making good progress. She is now just over 10 hours (197 nm) behind Ericsson 4. “We are staying honest with ourselves and sailing a course which we think is best for us – even if it is similar to the others,” explained Tom Addis, the navigator onboard Telefónica Blue for this leg. “Better and less risky opportunities will arise further down the track I am sure,” he added.
Meanwhile, PUMA has been enjoying the company of a small pod of playful dolphins. Ken Read has taken this as a good omen and is hoping that it is a sign that PUMA’s passage through the Pacific will be swift and safe.
There is a long way to go.
SPEED IS KING AS TEMPERATURES PLUMMET
After a slow get away from Qingdao in China on leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race (12,300 nm – the longest leg ever to be set in the history of the race), the wind has arrived on schedule and the first three boats are up, up and away. But, Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE) who had barely two hours after crossing the finish of leg four yesterday to re-provision the boat, load sails and extra clothes, before crossing the start line just under seven hours after the official leg start, is hunting the leaders down in grand style.
Bouwe Bekking’s Telefónica Blue had a disaster on the start line yesterday after running aground, requiring Bekking to return to Qingdao and haul his boat out for inspection and immediate repair. The team resumed racing last night, 19 hours behind the fleet. At 1300 today, they were 202 nm in arrears, amounting to approximately nine hours in the current conditions.
The fleet is now being catapulted towards the southern tip of Japan at breakneck speed. Ken Read/USA onboard PUMA reported a steady boat speed of 30 knots earlier this morning in 27 knots of wind. For Telefónica Blue, the start was anything but slow, which was tough on the crew and Xabier Fernandez from Spain was seasick. In the first hour of racing, the crew made four sail changes and saw their first snowflakes.
The light airs in the initial stages of the leg helped Ericsson 3 to catch the leaders and during their first two hours of racing, they drew them in by 30 miles. “We really have to fight the cold at these speeds,” said MCM Gustav Morin. “It is really tough when the freezing water is spraying us all the time,” he explained.
Ericsson 3, which arrived into Qingdao at 10:01 GMT to complete its eventful Leg 4 – via the repair shop in Taiwan – began Leg 5 less than two hours later and thus conceded almost seven hours to the leading pack.
By the 19:00 GMT Position Report, the deficit to PUMA was 44 miles and shrinking as Magnus Olsson and his crew give chase in 9 knots. The leaders are in the 3.5 to 4-knot range.
TELEFONICA BLUE RETURNS TO THE RACE COURSE
Bouwe Bekking’s Telefonica Blue team has resumed racing and started leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race. The team starts the leg in fifth place, after crossing the starting line nearly 19 hours behind the leaders.
Telefonica Blue had suspended racing just minutes ahead of the starting gun for leg five on Saturday afternoon in Qingdao (05:00 GMT), after running aground and damaging the keel before the start. Skipper Bouwe Bekking made the difficult decision to suspend racing in order to have the boat hauled out of the water to assess the extent of the damage before starting the leg.
Fortunately for the team, tests showed the damage was not critical. The shore crew worked at a furious pace overnight to fix damage to the bulb and fin and by sunrise in Qingdao on Sunday morning, the boat was ready to be lifted into the water.
“It could have been way worse,” said a relieved Bouwe Bekking. “The good news is there’s no structural damage and I’m just happy that we checked it out. You don’t want to go out on a leg like this where your keel or your bulb could fall off. It’s good news.”
With the leading boats in the fleet starting nearly 19 hours ahead, the Telefonica Blue crew will have their work cut out for them to make up for lost time.
“We are going to lose a bit more over the first couple of days, as they’re always in better pressure, but hopefully they park up and we reel them back in.”
Telefonica Blue resumed racing at 23:42 GMT on Saturday night (07:42 local time in Qingdao).
Leg Five Day 2: 0100 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to leader)
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) 12356 DTF
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +0nm
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +5nm
Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) +29nm
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +169nm
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) DNS
Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bérmudez/ESP) DNS
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) DNS
Epic might prove to be an understatement. Leg 5 is the 60th offshore leg in the 35-year history of the race. But unlike the 59 previous legs before it, this leg is more akin to a triathlon than an ocean passage.
With 12,300 nautical miles lying ahead of the sailors, it’s approximately 32-percent longer than the previous longest leg (8,370 nautical miles from Sydney to Rio de Janeiro, 1973-’74). It’s also 56 percent of the Earth’s circumference at the Equator.
The leg’s value is emphasized by the 16 points up for grabs, between the two scoring gates (4 points each) and the finish (8 points).
Throw in the race’s third crossing of the Equator and its massive area of Doldrums, the peak season for tropical cyclones in the South Pacific, two iceberg gates in the Southern Ocean, a rounding of legendary Cape Horn and an estimated 37 days of sailing, and it’s evident that triathlons pale in comparison to the endurance required for this leg.
“I rate it a 10 out of 10,” said Ericsson Racing Team meteorologist Chris Bedford. “There’s a bit of everything on this leg. You go through all of the world’s climate zones. Probably the only one missing is continental desert. This leg is about endurance. There’s a long way to go.”
Tactically speaking, this leg abounds with possibilities. There are an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, and many seem to lie directly between the start and the first scoring gate at 36 South latitude, just north of New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island. The gate stretches eastwards along the parallel all the way to Chile.
THE LONGEST LEG IN HISTORY
Five Volvo Ocean Race teams are girding themselves for the longest leg in the history of the race – a 12,300 nautical mile marathon to from Qingdao, China to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The leg starts at 1300 local time (0500 GMT) from a start line positioned just off the Olympic breakwater in Qingdao and will take the fleet into the depths of the iconic Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn before the teams find the relief of the finish line in the tropical conditions of Rio de Janeiro.
Four of the race teams have been in Qingdao for nearly three weeks and, after making various repairs, they competed in the in-port race on Monday. They’ve since spent their time this week making final adjustments and tune-ups, as well as provisioning for the long stretch ahead.
The fifth team, Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE), is currently racing towards Qingdao, hoping to finish leg four in the early hours of Saturday morning before joining the start for leg five to Rio.
The 12,300 nm course includes two scoring gates (at latitude 37’00.000S and Cape Horn), and two ice gates to keep the fleet to the north and safe from a drifting iceberg that has now broken up, spewing lethal bergy bits and growlers across the ocean. The Islands of New Zealand (East Cape) is also a mark of the course, which the fleet must leave to starboard. The leg is expected to take around 34 days to complete.
Today, the four skippers in Qingdao met the media and spoke of the challenge ahead. The race leader, Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA), is leaving China with a bigger lead than when they finished. A win in the in-port race, and a decision by second-placed Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) to change its rudders at the cost of a three-point penalty, have seen to that. But Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael says he’s still looking over his shoulder, despite holding a seven-point lead.
“Telefónica Blue is a very competitive team and I think they will improve their performance,” Grael said. “They have shown in the last couple of legs that they are a very strong team and we will have to work very hard to beat them. PUMA is also very strong.”
For his part, Telefónica Blue skipper Bouwe Bekking said the decision to take the penalty was easy. Following two consecutive leg wins, his team is confident that the new configuration for this leg will make them more competitive in the high winds and waves they’re sure to encounter in the Southern Ocean.
“We have a lot of confidence in that set-up,” Bekking said. “The first leg (a fifth place finish), we weren’t good as a crew and we’ve learned a lot since then. We’ve been able to start learning our boat as well…and I think the rudders will help us a lot in these conditions.”
Running just one point behind Telefónica Blue is Ken Read’s PUMA, which has yet to win a leg although Read thinks that particular streak may be about to end.
“There is so much to look forward to,” he said. “We have the team and the boat to win a leg and there’s no reason why we can’t win this one.”
The PUMA skipper has never rounded Cape Horn before and admits that reaching the iconic waypoint will be a massive achievement. Similarly, Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker/GBR is looking forward to his first taste of the Southern Ocean. As a relative newcomer to offshore sailing, this will be his longest passage at sea. He says the experience of the Volvo Ocean Race has changed him as a sailor.
“I’m fortunate to have some very experienced sailors on the team so I’ve learned lots of specific skills,” he said. “But if I had to summarise one thing that I’ve developed, I’m maybe a little bit more patient than I was before…a little bit. But I’m still working on that!”
At 0700 GMT this morning Ericsson 3 was 191 miles from Qingdao. Routing software is predicting a finish for the team at approximately 0630 GMT tomorrow. The team suspended racing in leg four due to damage, which has since been fixed in Taiwan. After resuming racing just before midnight (GMT) on Wednesday night, the Nordic team is in a dash for the finish line in Qingdao, where the team will make a short pit-stop to provision and pick up crew, before starting leg five. If the weather cooperates, they may even be in time to start with the rest of the fleet.
1. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA): 49 points
2. Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED): 42 points
3. PUMA (Ken Read/USA): 41 points
4. Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR): 30 points
5. Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE): 24 points
6. Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP): 21 points
7. Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP): 12 points
8. Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT): 10.5 points
Live audio commentary of the leg start is available through www.volvooceanrace.org, beginning at 0445 GMT.