Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ericsson 3 and 4 are back on the water

[Source: Ericsson Racing Team] Ericsson Racing Team today furthered is preparation for Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race with the launching of its two yachts, Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4.

The near sisterships were hauled from the water about 10 days ago after completing Leg 2 for their routine maintenance. Two more days of preparation are planned before the Saturday start of the leg that will take the team and its 22 sailors to Singapore.

“The boats are in the water, the rigs are in the boats and the boats are ready to rock-n-roll,” said planning manager Anthony “Spillers” Spillebeen. “They go sailing tomorrow, get loaded Thursday, and have an easy day Friday before the start on Saturday at 2:00 pm.”

The best of Leg 2 on Ericsson 4 (part 1). 9 October 2008. Video copyright Ericsson Racing Team

Ericsson 4, skippered by Brazilian Torben Grael, leads the fleet with 26 points after having won the first two legs. Anders Lewander’s Ericsson 3 is fifth, 11.5 points behind, after a workmanlike third-place finish on Leg 2.

The next leg leads the fleet to another heretofore unseen port in the Volvo race. Singapore, an island state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, will host the fleet through the upcoming holiday season. The 1,950-nautical mile leg is expected to take between nine and 11 days.

“This is a tricky leg,” said team meteorologist Chris Bedford. “I’m going to rate its difficulty between six and seven on the weather side, but a 10 on the navigation side.”

After the start off Cochin, the fleet will work its way southwards down the India coastline battling the light seabreeze and land breeze that marked the finish of Leg 2. Following on the strategies employed approaching the previous finish, expect the boats to stay close to the shoreline on Saturday night as they look for the slightest of zephyrs.

Once south of the tip of India and Sri Lanka, the fleet turns easterly towards Sumatra. The upwind route is a precipitous balance between avoiding the southern edge of the northeasterly monsoon, and the northern edge of the equatorial Doldrums.

Leg 3 has a scoring gate, but Stealth Play is not an option. The scoring gate is approximately 1,275 nautical miles from the start between the northern end of Sumatra and the southern end of Great Nicobar Island, two areas ravaged by the 2004 tsunami.

“The gate is similar to Leg 2 where it is spread out,” said Ericsson 4 navigator Jules Salter. “It’s about 100 miles wide, and the northern end is 10 percent closer to the start than the southern end. So you’ll have to make a decision to go towards the north end for the points, which means a longer distance to the finish, or the southern end, which is a shorter distance to the finish but might take longer to reach.”

The best of Leg 2 on Ericsson 4 (part 2). 9 October 2008. Video copyright Ericsson Racing Team

Stealth Play isn’t an option because each boat is required to activate its data transponder once in the Strait of Malacca, a highly active shipping lane. Super-tankers, container ships and cargo ships ply the waters once every five minutes or more.

“It’ll get hectic once again,” Salter said. “There’s quite a lot of shallow water, fishing boats, stakes and traps. The middle of the channel is one of biggest shipping thoroughfares in world.”

To avoid both the shipping traffic and the possibility of being stopped, the race committee has put in place a series of exclusionary waypoints designed to keep the fleet closer to the Malay Peninsula. Even still, Salter sees another potential problem.

“In the strait you need to pick a side,” said Salter. “You’re away from the monsoon and back in the regime of thunderstorms. There are thunderstorms there like 175 days a year. I think there’s a good chance a boat may get struck by lightning.

“We’re confident in our boat and our sailors, as we always are,” Salter continued. “With these legs you don’t know what’s around the corner. We had quite good fortune in past leg. We’re just hoping for the best and hope our luck continues.”

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