Saturday, November 01, 2008

VOR fleet roaring towards Cape Town

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Ericsson 4 has the bit in her teeth and is still coming at speed towards Cape Town, now less than 200 miles away. Torben Grael and his record-breaking crew have looked like world beaters for the past week or so, and seem determined to keep the pedal down, all the way to the finishing line.

As Mark Chisnell explained in today’s TEN ZULU report, Cape Town’s Table Bay is notorious for having calm winds in the early morning hours and this could still slow down the leader. But with PUMA over 100 miles in arrears, Ericsson 4 appears to be have a solid grip on Leg One. Even the opposition is impressed.

“A huge congratulations to the Ericsson 4 team,” wrote Chris Nicolson, watch captain on PUMA. “To maintain that level of pace is a credit to their preparation and skill. Personally, it was a big reminder of the difficulty that comes with keeping everything together in those conditions. Will it (the record) fall again this race? Maybe, but it will take a very good set of conditions.”

Icy droplets on the boom of Telefonica Blue as they sail 39 degrees south, on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Southern Atlantic Ocean, 31 October 2008. Photo copyright Gabriele Olivo/Equipo Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race

With PUMA still looking safe on the shorter northerly track to Cape Town, there’s still a real battle brewing between Ericsson 3 and Green Dragon. Currently, the Nordic crew led by Anders Lewander on Ericsson appear to be in a strong position, but to see how strong, we’ll have to wait – the crew has just invoked its StealthPlay, lending an air of uncertainty to the boys on Green Dragon, who are feeling the effects of a tough watch system.

“The lads are pretty tired,” wrote skipper Ian Walker today. “For nearly a week now, we have been sailing a 'double standby' watch in strong wind. In simple terms, this means you only get two hours in your bunk every eight - which is not enough. It does mean that when it is rough we have seven people in kit ready to be on deck at a moment’s notice. We have needed them on several occasions.

“The other news is that we have gybed so we are now pointing pretty much at Cape Town. This is good for morale, not least as we are heading north again…It is frustrating knowing that we could be sailing so much faster and seeing ERT3 crossing us when we would have been so well clear of them but that's yacht racing…We have about two days to go and we are starting to count down the miles in fifties.”

Casey Smith driving at 20 knots, on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Southern Atlantic Ocean, 31 October 2008. Photo copyright Rick Deppe/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

And further back, there’s still plenty to fight for. Telefonica Blue is looking over its shoulder at a hard charging Team Russia. Current weather routing software puts the boats within hours of each other at the finish. Bouwe Bekking’s men are about 40 miles north of the Russian boat, a healthy enough separation for the chasing crew to gain on any significant shift, or change in weather.

Finally, Delta Lloyd has also played its StealthPlay card, as skipper Ger O’Rourke works to fend off the wounded Telefonica Black, which is now within 900 miles of Cape Town.

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