Volvo 2008 – 2009 Part 3

May 12, 2009 1 Comment by


PUMA LEG FOUR DAY 11

QFB:  received 28.01.09 0738 GMT

It is amazing how short a human being’s memory can be.  Well, maybe just offshore sailors.

Today we are sailing in 12-15 knot easterlies, reaching right at Qingdao, with flat water and bright sunshine.  It’s a bit chilly.  No need for ice cubes in the water that’s for sure.  But, it is beautiful, none the less.  Spirits are incredibly high and there has been almost no mention of the wild scenes we have dealt with for the past week.  In fact, I think that we all got our first good sleep in a week and it has made all the difference in the world.  Life is good again for PUMA’s il mostro team.  Our short term memories have been wiped clean, but not so for some of our colleagues.

We have heard of the severity of the damage caused by the weather done to Delta Lloyd, Ericsson 3 and Telefónica Black, which caused them all to seek safe harbour.  Thank goodness they all made it in with no further issues.  Let’s just hope that the damage is manageable so they can get back on the starting line soon.  This race needs them all.

From a racing perspective, we reeled in Tele-Blue to about 30 miles from over 200 a couple of days ago, but my guess is that they have a plenty safe lead from here on out.   Ericsson 4, on the other hand, is approximately 1.601 miles dead ahead (I have them on radar right in front of me).  They were about 120 miles ahead a couple days ago.  Here we are, in a drag race with them as usual.  And given the severity of the weather and the different routes and even the fact that we all left the Philippines at completely different times, it is unbelievable to me that we are right next to each other again.

Tonight should be interesting.  Hopefully we can create a passing lane with our buddies.  There are some serious fishing nets out here that we have seen today – mostly unlit and unmarked.  Don’t be surprised if a fishing net helps determine the difference between second and third place.  Oh yeah, and it will be a bit chilly tonight as well.

Finally, as I mentioned the cold earlier, we are really getting a bit of a reprieve for this time of year.  Typically, we would still be going upwind here off of China, and that would be a lot colder than what we have now.  This time last year the harbour was frozen where we are going, hopefully they won’t be breaking up ice to get us in there.   If that’s the case this year, it would be the perfect ending to this leg!

Kenny Read – skipper

ps: As I am writing, we just hit and broke through a fishing net that the boys on deck said you never would have guessed would have been in our path.  It felt like we were sailing into quick sand – then broke free.  Whew.  One bullet dodged.  Many more to come I would guess.  It’s going to be a long night.

PUMA

LEG FOUR DAY 10 QFB: received 27.01.09 0548 GMT

I guess I would be remiss by not starting this by saying ‘happy Chinese New Year’.  I think it is today, and the year of the ox my wife told me before I left.  And supposedly I am an Ox.  Again no real idea what that means.  If being an ox means that you are tired, have a throbbing finger that looks like hamburger meat and am sailing where no one really should – I guess I am an ox then.

The whole crew is an ox for that matter.  A bunch of good men here on il Mostro.  Especially since I have been of no help on deck since my little finger incident.  Extreme frustration having to listen to the on deck banter during brutal manoeuvres with nothing to do but listen and wait.  Horrible really.

Before I go further, I would like to express our sorrow and support for the Telefónica Back and Ericsson 3 teams, both of whom have both broken and headed for shelter.  Hopefully, all can be mended quickly so they can safely deliver up to Qingdao.  I really feel bad for all of them.

As far as this little adventure is concerned,, we survived our second gale off the North end of the Philippines and then actually had about 12-hours of reasonable sailing conditions, as we were sailing down the east side of Taiwan.  The first time in the leg we weren’t going upwind.

Capey  (Andrew Cape/AUS – navigator) picked a nice route that took us well outside of Taiwan and stayed in east/southeast breezes, and we literally made up 100 miles in the course of half a day.  But all good things must come to an end, and beginning last night around midnight, we started planning for our next gale, which we are in the middle of as we speak.  Break out the storm jib and three reefs one more time.  Can’t get enough of that really fun sail combination.  Yeah right.

It really isn’t the wind that wears you out, it is the waves.  Having to slow the boat down by any means possible is an unnatural act to begin with.  And we weren’t very good at it to start with.  But we have now had plenty of practice and we are getting better and better at going slow all the time. Sounds pretty strange that I would even be writing this, but in these conditions, you have to slow down or you will break the boat.  It is the unmerciful pounding on each wave.  It simply wears you down, and is almost always the reason these boats break.

We were just talking as a group below during a watch change.  ‘When was the last time you had to use a storm jib for real?’  Most of us could remember, especially the guys who sailed the stormy summer aboard ‘Rambler’ a couple years back.  The second question: ‘did anyone ever have to use storm jib three separate times in a leg or race?’  The answer was ‘absolutely no’.  This is a first for all of us.

There may be a light at the end of this storm tunnel though.  Lighter winds that may shift toward the southeast which could help us get in to Qingdao reaching and maybe running.  Which could be huge, since the temperatures are supposedly going to plummet to below freezing soon.  Oh joy.

With all this said, the mood aboard is still terrific.  Just need to gut the next few hours out.  Oh yeah, and the 500 or so miles to the finish after that as well.

Kenny Read – skipper

Photo: Casey Smith/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

ERICSSON 3 IN TROUBLE AS CONDITIONS DETERIORATE IN EAST CHINA SEA

It has been another night of hell for the Volvo Ocean Race, racing towards the finish of leg four in Qingdao.  Conditions worsened for the fleet over night, when they were midway between the northeastern tip of Taiwan and Qingdao, in the East China Sea.

Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE) did not survive the storm in tact, which was, according to Bouwe Bekking (Telefónica Blue), who is still clinging onto the lead, worse than the storm of two days ago.

During the night, the wind suddenly increased from 10-knots to 40-knots and the sea state quickly deteriorated.  Onboard Ericsson 3, the team had managed to find a good balance between pushing the boat hard, but not too hard, and were holding on to a comfortable second place after sailing a terrific leg.

All hands were called to drop the mainsail quickly as the wind speed rapidly accelerated.  According to MCM Gustav Morin, the boat was almost airborne at times and was slamming hard and rocking uncontrollably.  The mainsail was ripped to pieces as the crew tried to slow the boat to keep it in one piece.  But it was too late.

The bow compartment filled with water and, soon after that, a four-metre crack and an open hole in the hull appeared.  “We were very close to sinking,” said skipper Magnus Olsson.

“The water was pouring in from the hole and the bow section was delaminating,” said Gustav Morin.  The crew baled and pumped the water out and then cut up the bunks to strengthen the hull.  They were approximately 60 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan and they turned the boat immediately and headed downwind towards the island.  The crew prepared for the worst, dressed in their survival suits and made the safety equipment ready on deck.

“You should have been quicker with the camera,” navigator Aksel Magdahl said to Morin.  “It’s not every year that tears are dropping down my cheeks.  This is so disappointing.”

“I am very, very disappointed, especially for the crew. The crew has been so wonderful, and to sail with them has been so much fun from the very beginning,” said Olsson as he steered the boat towards Keelung City, a major port situated in the northeastern part of Taiwan.  The team was met by a pilot boat and escorted safely into harbour.  They have officially suspended racing.

Six shore crew and boat builders are now on their way to Keelung, where the boat will be hauled out of the water tomorrow at noon and the full extent of the damage will be assessed.

Meanwhile, still out on the racetrack and heading the field is Telefónica Blue, and skipper Bouwe Bekking/NED is doing his best to put theory into practise and keep Telefónica Blue between his opponents and the finish in Qingdao, just 477 nm away.

“We have to sail really, really slow, so we don’t break the boat.  Miles and position have become secondary, unfortunately,” Bekking said.  The crew is all wearing double safety harnesses, and Bekking is bracing himself in the navigation station, trying to take care of his damaged back.

With the suspension of Ericsson 3, Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael) has now upgraded to second place and is challenging Telefónica Blue for the lead from just 26 miles behind, although it has not been all plain sailing.    The team has been hampered by not being able to fly a storm jib, and has had to sail under a heavily reefed mainsail only, due to the pad eye from the tack of the storm jib ripping out of the deck.

“When was the last time you had to use a storm jib for real?” Ken Read (PUMA), now in third place, asked his crew, whose boom broke during the first storm.     “Did anyone ever have to use a storm jib on three separate times in a leg or race?” was the next question.  The answer was a resolute ‘No’.  This is a first for everybody.

ERICSSON 3

LEG FOUR DAY 7 QFB:  received 24.01.09 1421 GMT

Sledge hammered

It takes a while to get use to it. And you will never be entirely comfortable with it.  I’m talking about the movement of the boat in seas over two metres.

Today we have seen wind of almost 50 knots and seas that I’m pretty sure measured around eight metres…

You’re looking straight up in the sky when it hits you, and well over the top it’s free falling.  One, two three and bam!

When you land, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s surrealistic. Like sitting in the head of a sledgehammer when the world’s strongest man is smashing it through a block of cement.

Inside the boat, at the front by the galley, it’s worst. The bangs and crashes are sometimes so brutal that you really wonder when and not if the boat is going to break. And, if you don’t hold on properly, and have a good place too put your feet, you will hurt yourself, badly.

Biggest problem is that the boat isn’t really made for sailing in these kinds of conditions and it’s essential to look after it all the time. Our boat captain Jens Dolmer is actually not taking part in the watch system anymore. His main task now is to take care of and look after the boat, so we know how hard we can push.

For the last couple of hours he has been occupied with fixing a diesel leak. Usually there is a really bad smell inside the boat, containing sweat and dirt, but this is almost worse. Now we have an intense sticky smell of diesel occupying our nostrils. The emergency tank started leaking during the bumpy ride but I am not worried, there are very few things our farmer/sailor Jens can’t fix.

Gustav Morin – MCM

COLD AND DANGEROUS WATERS AHEAD

Leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Singapore to Qingdao (2,500 nm), promises to be among the hardest sections of this edition of the race. Before the finish in China, the crews are expected to encounter difficult upwind conditions, freezing temperatures, and boat-breaking sea states caused by strong winds battling fierce currents.

On Friday, the pre-start press conference with the seven skippers in Singapore featured the unusual sight of these highly competitive sailors speaking not of winning the leg, but of how it might be necessary to ease off, to preserve their crew and equipment to ensure safe arrival in Qingdao, China.

“We want to come first like everyone else, but we want to get there more than we want to get there first,” said Torben Grael, skipper of the race leading Ericsson 4.

The others on the stage agreed: “Fast or slow, we need to get there in one piece. We have to look out for each other,” added Ken Read, skipper of PUMA. “We could get into situations where others need our help so it is a challenge for everyone, not just individually but as a fleet. We’ve got to get there. We just have to get there.”

“You need to be fast and smart but most important, you need to get there in one piece,” said Ian Walker, who will be sailing the Green Dragon into its home waters as the boat was built in China.

Leg four is nominally a 2500 nautical mile battle; one of the medium length legs in the race. But, in reality, the teams are expected to sail much further, as the prevailing conditions would typically make much of the leg an upwind beat.

After spending the better part of a month on Sentosa Island in Singapore, it is hard to imagine what lies ahead. The leg will start on Sunday in winds forecast to be near 15 knots and temperatures approaching 30-degrees.

The first half of this leg should be straightforward; sail the fastest up the race course, utilising the shifts to strike off the miles efficiently. Boat speed and weather analysis will be the keys to success here. Then, a tactically difficult decision comes; whether to go inside or outside Taiwan. The current and sea state will be major factors in making this call.

The final obstacle will be the winter storms that often sweep off the mainland of China at this time of year. They can bring strong winds, thick clouds and rain, or snow and will doubtless provide a very stern test.

When the teams arrive in Qingdao, they will be hosted at a first-class facility. The Race Village is in the same location as the sailing events in the 2008 Olympic Games. The first boats are due to arrive on the 30 January.

The race start in Singapore is scheduled for 1300 local time (0500 GMT). The teams will sail around a triangle-shaped course after the start before proceeding out to sea. Live audio commentary of the leg start will be available on www.volvooceanrace.org .

Next leg 2000 plus mile dead maggot, perhaps a few yachties will look like this..

..by the time they get to China

Sunday 11 January, 2009 04:00 GMT

Chris Nicholson is set to miss the next few legs of the Volvo Ocean Race due a serious anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained on the second leg from Cape Town to Cochin.

The 39 year-old Australian watch captain on PUMA sustained the injury when his knee took the brunt of a crew mate’s violent tumble on deck.

“I was hanging on the mainsheet pedestal and one of the guys got washed down the deck and bashed straight into my knee,” he explained.

“It was quite funny until the pain set in. My foot was out here sort of thing so my initial reaction was to push it straight back. The pain was intense. I was choking. The guys wanted to take me down below but I told them just to put me on the sail stack so I could just look at the sky and breathe for five minutes. If I had gone downstairs I would have been ill. So I stayed there for a while then they took my clothes off put me in a bunk and gave me some drugs.”

After about 40 minutes, the pain was manageable. So manageable that he volunteered for his next watch but was told very firmly to stay put.

“It was quite rough and you quickly discover that you can’t lie down for long without getting a sore back and leg so after six hours I went back on deck. I had a suspicion that it was an ACL but I couldn’t test it properly. After a while there was no pain from the cruciate because it had snapped though the leg was unstable.”

He received daily support from Volvo Ocean Race doctor Tim Spalding, who he says played a crucial part in keeping his spirits up over the ten days it took to get to India.

In Cochin, he had a scan then went straight back to Sydney where doctors said he needed an operation. But Nicko was keen to finish the race so astonishingly, asked what would happen if he carried on, wearing a knee brace.

They advised him not to but he carried on regardless, and set off on the third leg.

I would have regretted being operated on without knowing if I could have carried on. I am reasonably at peace with myself knowing that it would have been unwise to carry on sailing but I had to give it a try and hopefully I have not done too much more damage. If I had carried on, my career could have been under threat.”

Cruciate ligament tears can end careers but Nicholson is contemplating a return in record time even though he admits to be the world’s worst patient. His partner Megan and six month old baby are dreading it, he says.

“My job has been a watch leader on the boat but now my job is to recover from the surgery. It could be race over but I see getting back as a challenge in the same way that racing the boat fast is a challenge. I will take it very seriously.

“I would rather have broken both legs than do this because I would have been OK in four to six weeks whereas now I could be out for four to six months.”

Nicholson served as tactician on PUMA for the in port racing on Saturday but is now off the boat, his place taken by British helmsman Rob Greenhalgh.

- Kate Laven

Team Russia today announced it has suspended racing upon arrival in Singapore at the end of Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race due to insufficient funds to continue the campaign.

The team has been actively approaching sponsors in recent months to secure enough financial support to continue the Volvo Ocean Race onto Qingdao (China) and beyond.  However no sponsorship has been forthcoming and the team has no alternative but to suspend racing until further financial support can be secured.

“From the outset, it was always a goal to bring commercial partners into the project,” explains Oleg Zherebtsov, the Team principal. “Until now, I have financed the team with my own money, in advance of anticipated sponsorship funding.  By this stage in the Volvo campaign we had intended to find sponsorship, but this process has been impacted by the global economic situation.”

Cessation of racing also means that Team Russia is unable to continue its partnership with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).  The team was proud to “Sail For The Whale”, during the first three legs of the Volvo Ocean Race and was instrumental in spreading the call for safe habitats for whales and dolphins around the globe. WDCS is very proud to have been a part of this race and will continue to work for the creation of 12 large marine protection areas by the year 2012 and will find new ways to work with the international sailing community as well as the general public to achieve this goal.

Read more news at Team Russia’s web site.

http://www.teamrussia.org

PUMA

LEG THREE DAY 9 QFB:  received 21.12.08 0408 GMT

The Malacca Straits are doing what they were meant to do, narrowing the fleet down into a funnel and slowing us down, generally making life as frustrating and unpredictable as possible.  Done deal.

The leg has progressed and I have to admit that I’m really pleased with how we have chipped back after an average (at best) first half of our Bay of Bengal trip.  Coming into the corner of Sumatra we created a plan and followed Ericsson 3 around the corner in fourth.  As day broke, we were greeted with a very wide tide line and as much bizarre stuff in the water as I have ever seen.

One black cloud came through and I am not sure if it was the cloud that got Ericsson 3 or stuff in the water, but we put them back pretty nicely to move into third.  Chipping away.  We kept working hard to get to the north and paid for that mileage early, but later in the day, the strategy paid as well.  Telefónica Blue tacked out of their southern position to come all the way out to us and tacked on our line only three miles away.  Again, we were pretty pleased, since about three days earlier they were about 60 miles away.

The team pressed hard through last night and the expected breeze built and big right shift finally came through.  We squeaked past T-Blue into second and put some serious miles on the rest of the fleet.  Let’s go get Ericsson 4!

And that is where the fairy tale came to a (hopefully temporary) screeching halt.  We have parked about 30 miles off the Malaysian coast and watched the boats sail up behind us including Ericsson 3 who is about a mile away.  T-Blue got back around us and we are completely drifting as we speak.  Amazingly, Ericsson 4 never has really gotten reeled in by their own personal ‘glass off’ of no wind, not yet anyway.  My guess is that all our times will come at some point…

So now we roll some craps.  Who will get the little zephyr first to launch them away from the pack?  Who can sustain just a hair more wind-pressure then the others?  Many times it is in the hands of the wind Gods.  But you have to make your own luck and it is time that  il mostro made some light air luck.

On board spirits are generally good.  The Great Plastic Fork Ordeal has run its course and we are down to our last four and even they are in dire straits.  But somehow we will survive.

We keep getting great notes from our families who have arrived in Singapore, all saying that we will love it there.  A bit of a break for weary bones I can tell you that.  My daughter Tory already sent me a ‘to do’ list that is supposedly ‘partial’.  Big plans for us she said.  Well I can speak for the entire team that we can’t wait to get to shore, hopefully with a hard earned solid result in our pocket as well.  That would make for a much more enjoyable Christmas that’s for sure.

Kenny Read – skipper

EYES WIDE OPEN

Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) led the Volvo Ocean Race fleet through the scoring gate at Palau We yesterday, followed by Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE).  Although they were disappointed not to be first through the gate, Bekking and his crew were pleased with the second place points, but today, they are not happy at all.

After rounding the island, the team was swallowed up by a big cloud.  “For nearly two hours we were struggling badly and only wiggled ourselves out of the wind hole,” Bekking explained earlier this morning.  Worst still, the crew saw PUMA and Ericsson 3 appear on the horizon – two boats who had, for much of this leg, been safely behind them.  “We just managed to cross PUMA,” Bekking said.

The feeling is much the same on Ericsson 3.  The elation of passing through the gate in third place was soon replaced by a quiet mood onboard.  After keeping PUMA (Ken Read/USA) at bay for hours and hours, just after the gate the two boats split and PUMA gained 13 miles on Ericsson 3.  “The boat is quiet and you can’t hear as much joking and laughing as usual,” says Gustav Morin MCM.

However, by 1000 GMT today, the mood must surely have improved on Ericsson 3 as they overtook Telefónica Blue to take second position, by just one nautical mile.  PUMA was still in fourth place, but only three miles behind Telefónica Blue.

Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) crossed the line 500 metres from the most northern point of Indonesia.  The crew reported that the views, especially of the active volcano, were fantastic at night.    But like everyone else, the team is exhausted.  She is 53 nm astern of Ericsson 4, and on her heels just five miles behind is Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR).

Green Dragon rounded an hour after Telefónica Black.  As they crossed the line, the wind direction changed and they continued to sail into headwinds.  “Onboard, everyone is hot and a bit fed up of sailing upwind,” said Walker this morning.  “Tactics are very hard as you have to balance which shifts are worth tacking on, against the hassle and loss of speed involved.  Nothing is worse than tacking, only to find the wind has shifted back again and you have to go through the process all over again.  You only get one or two of those before the crew has had enough,” he said.

Kosatka Team Russia was seventh.   “Over the last day we have closed the distance to the group considerably, and we now have all our guns pointed at the Green Dragon team.  Although they are currently 40 nm ahead of us, we are on the verge of entering the fluky winds of the Straits in which such a distance can be eaten up in a matter of hours,” says navigator Wouter Verbraak optimistically.  “Spirits are high and we are hungry.  Pirates? Fishing boats? Massive traffic?  Bring it on.  These are our passing opportunities of the next days,” he adds.

Finally, onboard Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP), crippled with only one keel ram working, life has calmed and the crew is confident that they will be able to nurse the boat into Singapore.

The entire fleet, except Delta Lloyd, has now passed the scoring gate at Palau We, and are now negotiating the Malacca Strait with their eyes wide open.

This area is not only one of the busiest areas in the world for commercial shipping; it is littered with partially submerged objects such as tree trunks and other debris.  Telefónica Blue has already twice hit something, but no damage was caused.

Onboard the leading boat, Ericsson 4, Guy Salter MCM says, “The only thing on our minds is getting to Singapore as soon as possible while avoiding the fishermen and their nets, the vast amount of commercial shipping, the large amount of litter in the water which ranges from a plastic cup to the odd tree trunk, the tides, the sandbanks, the storm clouds and associated lightening, the pirates, the sea snakes and the areas of no wind.”

http://sailmagazine.com/blogs/matthew_gregory/hq_we_have_a_problem/

HQ, We Have a Problem
By Matt Gregory Posted December 18, 2008

I was lying in a bunk catching up on sleep. Dreaming about something, I don’t remember what.

I woke to the sound of a deafening explosion. There is just no other way to describe it.

BAM

Something major. Broken. I sprang up. I waited for the rig to hit the water. I heard nothing. The sails weren’t even flapping.

Screams from the crew:

“It’s something in the boat.”

“Check the chain plates!’

“Are the bulkheads ok?”

“Did we de-laminate?”

“We are taking the headsail down. Can we have another body on deck?”

“Get the tool box. I need the Allen keys. We need to open the keel box to see the rams”

“Holy shit. This is it! It’s bad!”

“Emergency water pumps ready.”

Grab bags and survival suits were pulled out of the locker in case.
HQ, We Have a Problem
Broken vitals aboard Delta Lloyd
Sander Plujim/Team Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race

I got on the sat phone. The first call was to the Volvo Race HQ. “This is Matt Gregory. We have a problem. We’ve had a massive failure to the port side bulkhead that attaches the keel canting hydraulic ram to the boat. We aren’t sure of the situation yet. Can you put everyone on standby? We might need help from the Russians; they are the closest boat to us. Are you receiving our position through the telemetry?”

After some tense moments we were able to assess our prospects. The hull was intact. Water was not coming into the boat, and the starboard side ram was holding the load of the keel. We had a stable situation, were not in immediate danger, and now needed to figure out what to do next, not to create a dangerous situation.

We called Juan K, our boat’s designer. He helped us determine that the damage was contained to the port side keel ram structures. The starboard side structures and ram would be strong enough to allow us to go upwind and into the waves – east towards the Malacca Straights and then towards Singapore. The closest land, which happens to be the scoring gate, is 400 miles away. We don’t have enough diesel fuel to motor the entire way, so being able to sail in some capacity is important. Also, because the boat heels, sailing helps reduce the pounding loads on the boat moving upwind and into the waves. With the keel uncanted and in the center position, we are able to gingerly sail upwind. This is good news.

Right now, we are making headway in 15 knots of wind, sailing with a reef in the main and a J4 headsail.

(It’s a tiny staysail like headsail.)

We are coordinating with our shore team and Volvo Race HQ to manage the logistics of getting the boat to Singapore. This might involve sailing to Indonesia, taking on fuel, and then motoring the rest of the way. But these are details. For now, we are all happy to be safe and for our boat to be in one piece

Well, sort of one piece.

I’ve adjusted my Christmas wish list.

more here

http://www.volvooceanrace.org/news/article/2008/december/DELTA-EMAIL-L3-D6-1633/

http://www.volvooceanrace.org/news/article/2008/december/DELTA-LLOYD-RAM-L3-D6/

THE BEAT FROM HELL

“Welcome to leg three and the beat from hell,” says the skipper of fifth-placed PUMA, Ken Read/USA as the Volvo fleet struggles against strong current and light headwinds, trying to pick a way north into the Bay of Bengal in search of stronger breeze.

It has been a painfully slow progress on this 1950 nm leg from Cochin to Singapore and the last 48 hours have been particularly brutal, with up to 3.5 knots of adverse current off the southern tip of Sri Lanka.   The teams have not been able to escape the tidal clutches and head for shallow water because of two waypoints set to keep them away from the coast where there is a threat of piracy.

Overnight, the order changed again and Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) pushed her nose ahead of the field and is now positioned neatly with a lead of 19 miles over Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) and Telefónica Black (Fernando Echavarri/ESP).

“The few miles separation we have established between the boats now has given us a little breathing space, but we will not let the pressure off at all,” said Telefónica Blue navigator Simon Fisher just moments ago.

Yesterday’s leader,  Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) had slipped back to fourth place, but is the most northerly of the fleet, 24nm north of Green Dragon, on the southernmost outpost.

PUMA is five nm ahead of Ericsson  4 who is on her port flank, Telefónica Black is in the middle of the pack, with Telefónica Blue, PUMA and Green Dragon in sight.  Spirits are high onboard this boat as the team is in a good position.  “The food is nice as well,” says MCM Mikel Pasabant happily.

The luck has finally run out for Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE) in sixth place, or at least that is what it feels like to the crew.

“How big a chance is it to get two black and then one red in roulette,” asks Magnus Olsson rhetorically.  “Talking about roulette,” says MCM Gustav Morin, “that is a bit how this leg feels.  Easy to say when you are behind I know, but I do think it is a bit about luck.  Yet we haven’t been lucky and we haven’t sailed very well,” he said.

Ericsson 3 follows the track of Telefónica Black, having swapped places with Andreas Hanakamp/AUT who has chosen to take Kosatka Team Russia well to the north.  Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP), following in the wake of Ericsson 3, remains in eighth position.

Ian Walker, skipper of second-placed Green Dragon says that if there was a prize for tenacity, then his crew would deserve it.  “We do not have the speed of the Ericsson, PUMA or Telefónica boats and it is not easy to see them putting miles on us whenever we are near them,” he says.  “We had been sailing for hours, making no more than two knots and often nothing towards the finish, so we had to do something.  We didn’t really want to go south, but had to bite the bullet.  We also noticed that Telefónica Black had made some gains that way, so south we went and, sure enough, the current finally reduced,” he explained.

But the team can’t stay in the south too long, as light winds await.  Now they, along with everyone else are desperately trying to claw their way north.

Hopes of finishing in Singapore in time for Christmas are fading and food has been rationed on Ericsson 4 in the expectation that this leg will take longer than planned.

“It’s like being on a treadmill” says PUMA’s skipper, Kenny Read, “except that no one can get off.  Doesn’t Mother Nature know that we have Christmas dinner waiting at the other end and we have to make it on time?”

So far, on this leg, there have been no reports of pirates, but the Dragons have had two narrow escapes with fishing boats.  One incident in particular, in the middle of the night, was described by watch captain, Neal McDonald/GBR as ‘the closest he has ever come to hitting one’.  “I guess that’s too close for comfort then,” said skipper Ian Walker.

At 1300 today, the breeze was beginning to build again and speeds across the fleet were up to a respectable 12 knots; however, there is no time to relax.  The fleet has to manoeuvre their way through a trough of low pressure later tonight with the hope of finding more consistent breeze on the other side.

Leg Three Day Four: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTF 1308
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +19
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +19
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +20
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +25
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +30
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +62
Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) +67

THE PIRATE WAYPOINT

The eight-strong Volvo Ocean Race fleet, on leg three from Cochin to Singapore, is now racing south of a line set between two waypoints south of Sri Lanka, put in place by race organisers to keep the fleet south of the coast and the possible intrusion by pirates.  The turn to the north, up into the Bay of Bengal cannot be made until the round the second waypoint is passed, about 40 nautical miles head of the race leader, Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA).

Once round the waypoint, the fleet will then face a 1000 nm beat towards Sumatra and the scoring gate set off the entrance to the Malacca Straits.  Wouter Verbraak, Team Russia’s Dutch navigator puts the upwind slog into perspective when he explains, “it is as far as Miami to New York, slightly shorter than Sydney to Auckland, or from Holland to the very most southern tip of Italy.  Wow, that is more than a two-day drive.”

According to Verbraak, it is clear that there is consistently more wind in the Bay of Bengal and the decision as to when to peel off north will be a crucial one.  “Go further east to get that better right hand shift, or go earlier to get to the stronger wind first,” Verbraak deliberates.  Either way, it will be all to play for once the fleet gets clear of the second Sri Lankan waypoint.

Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) currently in third place, nearly found themselves the wrong side of the waypoint, washed down on it by 2.5 knots of current, which, Bekking says gave navigator Simon Fisher a few grey hairs!

At 1300 GMT, the fleet was sailing upwind with tightly-sheeted Code Zero sails.  Bekking said that PUMA (Ken Read/USA) was sailing the best, Ericsson 4 – second best, and his own boat, Telefónica Blue, the worst.  “It’s just a matter of being patient and waiting for the conditions to change,” he said.  The leading pack has nearly three knots of current against them, which doesn’t help their progress, but at least there is breeze and the boats are still making miles in the right direction.

Overnight, the order changed again. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) slipped into the lead, followed by PUMA (Ken Read/USA).  Telefónica Blue was relegated to third place and is being hounded by Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP).  Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) has gone from second to fifth place and is just five miles ahead of Andreas Hanakamp/AUT and Team Russia who move up a place, swapping with Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE) who is still struggling in the light conditions.  Roberto Bermudez/ESP and Delta Lloyd continue to bring up the rear, but are now 63 nm behind, losing 30 miles since 1000 GMT yesterday.

Leg Three Day Three: 1000 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 1475
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +1
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +2
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +9
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +14
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +19
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +22
Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) +63

Leg 3

Sunday, 14 Decmeber, 2008 – 16:30 GMT

Telefonica Blue, revelling in the contest, still lead on leg three but Ericsson 4, having leapfrogged Green Dragon, are in stalking mood.

By the 16:00 GMT Position Report, Bouwe Bekking’s men held a one mile edge over Torben Grael’s pursuers on E4.

Behind, the battle for third place between Green Dragon, PUMA (both +4 Distance To Leader) and Telefonica Black (+8 DTL) is intense.

Over 300 of the 1,950 nautical miles from Cochin to Singapore have been covered. For the top six, which includes Ericsson 3 (+10), it has been all hand-to-hand combat thus far.

“It’s been exciting racing despite it being all in slow motion at times due to the light winds off the coast,” says Telefonica Blue’s navigator Simon Fisher.

“The usual anxiety and anticipation of having to wait for each sched (position report) every three hours has been absent so far – because we have been able to see each other for most of the time.

“We have had a really good battle down the coast of India and we are now clear of the Indian coast and heading to the first of our Sri Lankan waypoints and to be honest it feels good to be back racing in the open ocean.

“Our passage down the coast was nice and smooth, not too many fishing boats or nets to contend with and the ones we did meet only needed a friendly wave as opposed to drastic evasive action.

“Tonight will no doubt be getting busy again as the wind drops and the fleet compresses once more but with everyone thriving on the competition right now we are happy to bring it on.”

Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael also alluded the closeness of the racing – and a close call in Cochin traffic.

“We are a little more than 30 hours into the third leg. We have already had quite a few re-starts and there is another coming soon, here at the bottom of Sri Lanka,” he said.

”Racing as usual has been pretty close, especially with the “stop-and-gos” which recompress the fleet. After enjoying life at the extreme onboard a few tuk tuks (auto rickshaw), life seems quiet onboard in these light conditions.”

STEALTH PLAY IN FINAL STAGES OF VOLVO OCEAN RACE LEG TWO

As Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) and Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED), the first two boats to commence their approach to the finish of leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race in Cochin, have dusted off their stealth cards and, for the first time on this leg, the race is in StealthPlay.

Ericsson 4 went into StealthPlay following the 1000 GMT position report this morning, so there is no data for her.  Telefónica Blue activated her stealth card immediately after the 1300 GMT report today and had 125 nm to run to the finish at 1300 GMT.

Conditions overnight have continued to test the crews with no wind at times, followed quickly by gusts of over 25 knots.  Prior to going into stealth mode, Ericsson 4 had had seen the first effects of the looming light, variable winds off the coast of India and was beginning to lose miles to the rest of the fleet. However, their large cushion of 77 miles (as at 1000 GMT) should be of some comfort.  In the variable winds, their estimated time of arrival could slip back late into the night.

Telefónica Blue was becalmed in big seas for nearly two hours this morning – just the sort of conditions where damage is easily done.  However, suddenly the breeze picked up and the boat took off in 25 knots.    “I might be soaked to the skin from the rain and seaspray, but I don’t mind at all – the sea temperature is pushing 30 degrees and the prospect of a good curry and a cobra beer is only 24-hours away,” wrote navigator Simon Fisher.

The Telefónica Blue team is threatening to make the final hours interesting by making a late charge at Ericsson 4.  But, they’re coming from a long way back, and rapidly running out of runway to make the pass.

Ken Read, skipper of PUMA, describes the final stages of this leg perfectly:

“It’s like running a marathon.  You have four or five miles to go to the finish and you can see two runners in front of you… one about 150 metres ahead and the other about 400 metres.  The road to the finish is straight, with no corners or turns, and, right now, has a downhill gradient, so everyone is running smoothly and loose, with not many passing lanes.

“Right before you finish, there is a hill and there may be some opportunity for passing, but for now, you just have to try and run a little faster than both of them, without hitting the wall. And, at the same time, hope they run out of steam just a little bit sooner than you, or, have the misfortune to break a shoelace or experience some other minor mishap.”

At 1300 GMT today, PUMA  was running smoothly, had overtaken Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) and was only three miles behind Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR).  Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE) was approximately 40 miles ahead.  Languishing at the back of the fleet was Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) with 369 miles to run and the Russians sailing Kosatka, who were adrift by more than 625 nautical miles.

Leg Two Day 15: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTF 125 nm
(now in StealthPlay for the 1600 position report)

Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) DTF 278
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) DTF 317
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) DTF 320
Delta Lloyd NED (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) DTF 323
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) DTF 360
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) DTF 628

STEALTHPLAY
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA)

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