Thursday, March 05, 2009

All boats except Telefonica Blue head back north

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] The first milestone of leg five was achieved yesterday, when Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) led the fleet through the first of two scoring gates on leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race, to collect the maximum of four points. The team now has 53 points in total and a lead of 8.5 points over Telefónica Blue in second place. PUMA is just half a point behind the blue Spanish boat in the third podium position.

Hot on the heels of Ericsson 4 at the gate was Ericsson 3 (Magnus Olsson/SWE), who started the leg seven hours after the rest of the fleet left Qingdao in China nearly three weeks ago.

Immediately after passing through the gate, Ericsson 3 made the brave move to point their bows north again, causing Simon Fisher to comment: “We will have to see if their plan was genius or madness.”

Ericsson 3’s navigator, Aksel Magdahl explains: “Until some 24 hours before we tacked away at the 36 south scoring gate, everything looked good to go due south close to New Zealand, with the high pressure system expected to move off to the east. However, 18 hours before the gate, I realised that this high did not seem to move so fast anymore. I was also looking at a very interesting small, but powerful low pressure coming in from the north east, and I thought a bit around whether it was a possibility to use this rather than going slow south underneath the high pressure and even risking getting too close to it.”

The whole fleet has now made the same move. All except Telefónica Blue, who is the southernmost boat in the fleet and is trapped, still waiting for the wind to shift in order to tack. But, on distance to finish, this puts Telefónica Blue into the lead.

“We were the latest to make the decision to turn, which has its pros and cons,” says helmsman Simon Fisher. “We are probably risking lighter winds than the others, but may get a better shift… We all wait here with baited breath once more.”

The reason for heading north is to avoid the ridge of high pressure, which is blocking the way to the strong westerly winds in the south that everyone was so looking forward to. Instead, this could mean sailing upwind for at least another 1000 miles in order to pass north of the high.

“What is up with this leg? I had envisioned us screaming along in the roaring forties and pushing hard to break our 24-hour record soon after passing the first scoring gate. Instead, here we find ourselves, sailing upwind in an easterly breeze and contemplating how to negotiate a tropical cyclone that lies ahead. For God’s sake, we are below 40 degrees south! Give us some downwind sailing and let these Volvo 70s do what they do best,” writes a disappointed Ryan Godfrey from Ericsson 4.

Telefónica Blue has also been sailing heavily reefed while the crew glued patches onto the bottom half of the mainsail, which had completely delaminated. “It plays on your nerves as you know you are sailing slow, but you just have to be patient, there is nothing you can do,” said skipper Bouwe Bekking.

Mainsail repairs aboard Telefoncia Blue. South Pacific Ocean, 5 March 2009. Photo copyright Gabriele Olivo / Equipo Telefonica

The next milestone on this 12,300 nautical mile marathon will be the first of two ice gates located southeast of New Zealand at 47 degrees South between the longitudes of 155 west and 140 west. The second gate is set approximately 1,500 nm west of Chile at 45 degrees south between 120 west and 105 west.

In both cases, the intention is to keep the fleet north of known ice masses, and, in both cases, a team must be on, or north, of the designated latitude at some point between the two stated lines of longitude.

“It means the fleet can cross through the gate from south to north, or from north to south, or just stay north of the gate,” explains Race Director Jack Lloyd, who adds that the net result is that the fleet will be directed north. Telefónica Blue is approximate 916 nm north west of the western end of the gate and 114 due north of the Chatham Islands.

Meanwhile Telefónica Black, one of two yachts to retire from leg four due to damage, has arrived at the Marina Da Gloria, the site of the Rio de Janeiro stopover, after being shipped from Singapore.

Skipper, Fernando Echávarri/ESP said, “We are going to spend two weeks repairing the boat and then we will have several days to train and check before the in-port race on 4 April.” The sailing crew will be based in Rio during the next few weeks to help the shore crew and Echávarri himself will arrive on 15 March to oversee the repair work.

Leg Five Scoring Gate 1 positions
1. Ericsson 4: 00:21.09 GMT 04.03.09: 4 points
2. Ericsson 3: 00:53.09 GMT 04.03.09: 3.5 points
3. PUMA: 01:03.24 GMT 04.03.09: 3 points
4. Telefónica Blue: 03:16.22 GMT 04.03.09: 2.5 points
5. Green Dragon: 04:31.49 GMT 04.03.09: 2 points

Leg Five Day 20: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTF 6,687 nm
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +8
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +10
Green Dragon IRL/CHI (Ian Walker/GBR) +54
Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) +106

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