Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ericsson 4 enters Doldrums, to the relief of Telefonica Blue

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA), pathfinders in this 12,300 nm leg from Qingdao to Rio de Janeiro, has arrived in the Doldrums, much to the relief of the Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) who started leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race some 19 hours behind the rest of the fleet and now has a chance to close their deficit.

“The last sched has just come in and Ericsson 4 has finally parked – so, at last, the Doldrums are really there – people were starting not to believe me,” wrote Tom Addis, the navigator onboard the blue boat.

Telefónica Blue still has good breeze and is all set to make up some miles while the pressure holds. “We normally dread the light breeze that comes with this sort of transition, but, to be honest, we are all looking forward to the change in routine and the opportunities that it presents,” Addis said. The boat is still averaging 16 knots to Ericsson 4 and PUMA’s nine.

Meanwhile, in the thick of clouds and light winds, Joca Signorini, the Brazilian trimmer on Ericsson 4, says the last 10 hours or so have been painful. “We are now trying to keep moving and waiting to see what happens with the others,” he said.

It will be an exciting few days now, as the backmarkers make gains on the leaders who are struggling. Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE), currently in third place, reports wind speed of below five knots, so this team too, has arrived at the ITCZ (Inter-tropical Convergence Zone otherwise known as the Doldrums). The Telefónica Blue team reckons they only have a few hours to go before they too, will be fighting with clouds and fickle winds.

The fleet is still picking its way through the Marshall Islands, a group of 29 atolls and five islands. Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) on her course, some 100 nm east of the track of Ericsson 4, will pass closer to the islands than the rest of the fleet.

The islands sound so interesting, according to the digital version of the Pacific Ocean pilot book, which Telefónica Blue has onboard, that Tom Addis thinks he might like to return one day for a more relaxed sailing holiday with his family, although he says, “If you see me in the street, please remind me not to set out from Qingdao in a Volvo 70.”

With the Doldrums comes rain, often in heavy bursts, which in turn, means clean crews and less smelly boats, as everyone onboard is able to have a tropical shower and a change of clothes. Ken Read, skipper of second-placed PUMA, says he has been in some smelly situations, but the interior of PUMA is rapidly passing them all as a top player in this week’s smelliest place on earth.

The monotony of a week of blast-reaching has not even been broken by wildlife to observe. Magnus Olsson (Ericsson 3) is very disappointed about this. No dolphins, no whales and no birds have been sighted, just the odd flying fish. That will all change, once the fleet reaches the Southern Ocean and the home of the Albatross and other sea life. “The birds down there are just fantastic,” says Olsson, who has a big fascination of the Albatross and its way of sweeping over the surface and diving between the waves without moving its wings.

Magnus will be pleased to learn that a large part of the monies raised from the Virtual Volvo Ocean Race competitors is to be donated to the Save the Albatross campaign in order to help prevent the extinction of these majestic birds.

At 1300 GMT today PUMA is 21 nm behind Ericsson 4, but averaging the same speed. Ericsson 3, however, is putting the pressure on PUMA from just three miles astern and is still averaging just over 11 knots. The gap of over 200 nm for both Telefónica Blue and Green Dragon has now been cut significantly. Telefónica Blue has closed to 170 nm, making a gain of around 90 nm in the last 24 hours, while Green Dragon is still going strong, out to the east, and has cut 77 nm out of Ericsson 4’s lead.

Leg Five Day 9: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 9,545 nm
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +21
Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) +25
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +170
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +196

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