Ericsson 4 grabs leadership of Volvo Ocean Race
[Source: Chris Bedford, Ericsson Team meteorologist] Ericsson 4 has grabbed the lead over Telefonica Blue in convincing fashion. This has been possible by hard and skilled sailing, superior management of the race course geometry, and to be truthful, a little help from the weather gods. Likewise, Ericsson 3 is also now threatening Blue thanks to a more northerly position, faster boat speed and similarly high quality course management. Puma is close behind Ericsson 3 which is no doubt giving them extra inspiration to sail hard and fast.
Overnight, the wind has been relatively even on Ericsson 4 and Telefonica Blue. It seems that Ericsson 4 has a hair better boat speed and/or height in these tight upwind sailing conditions. There may have been slightly more breeze on Ericsson 4, but more likely it has been a case of Telefonica Blue squeezing into a lower apparent wind angle (and thereby slowing) to try and get further north and minimize the gauge against the boats to the north. As if to help out Ericsson Racing Team, the wind has been backed slightly left of what the models have been forecasting. This is likely due to the NE Monsson breeze wrapping around the northern tip of Sumatra. The backed wind has enabled the Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4 to sail more directly toward the mark, making Blue’s more southerly position even more tenuous.
Ericsson 4 tries to dodge a large storm cloud on the way to Singapore. It could bring good winds, but the crew is being careful. 18 December 2008. Video copyright Ericsson Racing Team
Neither Ericsson 4 nor Telefonica Blue should be able to lay Pulau We Island at the northern end of Sumatra. They will be forced to tack north to get around it and clear the scoring gate. For that reason, Ericsson 4’s lead is actually even great than what the scoreboard shows since they have northerly leverage on this coming tack. The wind will continue to hold around 20 knots and may veer right slightly, becoming more ENE before reaching the scoring gate. Unfortunately for Telefonica Blue, the veer is not expected to be enough to erase any advantage.
Elsewhere on the track, Puma is well and truly in the mix right on the heels of Ericsson 3. Telefonica Black and even Green Dragon must be watched very closely as they are certainly within striking distance. All these boats will need to make the same tacks and maneuvers to get through the scoring gate and therefore, their options are limited. Watch the Russians up to the north. While they are not a threat to the top four, they will be able to lay through the scoring gate and could close up considerably by later today.
Best ETA to the scoring gate is between 1700 and 1800 GMT tonight (Friday evening). For those of you already in Singapore, you might want to set the clock for a 0200 local time Saturday morning check of the positions.
After the scoring gate, there is still 600nm of mind melting sailing to go. Although reasonably good moderate ENE pressure is expected to hold for about 170nm or so beyond the gate, winds will eventually ease off and much more variable conditions are expected. Just this morning, there was a nice batch of thunderstorms over the central Malacca Strait. Similar storms are there at some point nearly every day. There is little doubt clouds and squalls will be a randomizing factor on the final approach to the finish. Because the final 300+nm of Leg 3 has the potential of being so very random, it makes the scoring gate points to be won tonight and tomorrow morning even more important.
Ericsson 4 navigator Jules Salter talks about the approach to the scoring gate. 18 December 2008. Video copyright Ericsson Racing Team