Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ericsson 3 goes into hiding

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] It is day 40 of this 12,300 nautical mile jaunt from Qingdao, China to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in the closing stages, the leading boat, Ericsson 3, has opted to play her stealth card. She has gone into hiding and will only reappear 24- hours later, or once she is within 50 nm of the finish in Rio.

This is the first time on this leg that the stealth card, newly introduced for the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race, has been played. Ericsson 3 began her ‘StealthPlay’ to give it its official title, immediately after the 1000 GMT position report this morning and her position in the fleet and all her onboard data will now be secret.

However, at 1000 GMT this morning, the last position report before she ‘disappeared’ from the world’s radar, Ericsson 3 had 194 miles to run to the finish as was parallel with Sao Paulo. She was averaging a double-figure boat speed of 10.5 knots and had achieved a run of 262 nm in the past 24 hours.

Ericsson 3 dry out their clothes and food bags whilst in Stealth Play, as they close in on Rio de Janeiro. Atlantic Ocean, 25 MArch 2009. Photo copyright Gustav Morin/Ericsson 3/Volvo Ocean Race

Her nearest and deadliest rival, Ericsson 4, with the hugely talented Torben Grael at the helm in what are his home waters, was a safe 103 nm behind her. But, spicing things up in the last hours of the leg, Grael too opted for StealthPlay shortly after today’s 1300 GMT positions were released and now the whereabouts of the man who has five Olympic medals to his name and who knows the waters off Rio like the back of his hand, will be unknown for 24-hours.

At 1300 GMT today, prior to announcing their StealthPlay, Ericsson 4 had 254 nm to run to the finish, with third-placed PUMA a further 86 miles astern.

Yesterday, PUMA’s skipper Ken Read was questioning the motives of the Wind Gods. “Do they really need to play with us like this?” he asked. He answered his own question when he said, “We have a choice. We always have a choice, but now, we really have a choice. We can feel sorry for ourselves and bitch about the weather and the winds and everything else that is preventing us from the ‘all we can eat in Rio’, or we can suck it up and deal with our situation the best we can. Continue to race and continue to do our jobs.”

Read’s crew clearly chose the latter option and Read is very proud of all involved. “Not a single ‘feeling sorry for ourselves’ comment. We continue to race,” he said.

The top four boats, including the beleaguered Green Dragon have all been set free of the high pressure and are making good speeds towards the finish, while Telefónica Blue is the latest victim of the light spot and her speed is nearly half that of the Dragon’s, at 7.5 nm average over the last three hours.

After closing to within 50 nm of Ian Walker and his men yesterday, Bouwe Bekking’s blue boat has now slipped back to 164 nm, as she too now has to fight her way through the high pressure.

“What could have been a case of just counting down the miles to Rio has become for us an exciting duel to the finish,” declared Telefónica Blue’s helmsman Simon Fisher.

As well as keeping Telefónica Blue at bay, Green Dragon has her own issues onboard. Their fuel situation has become critical as the alternator on the generator isn’t working and crew has to use the main engine, which takes more fuel.

“We have calculated we have six days [of fuel] left,” says skipper Ian Walker, who reckons it will take them the full six days to reach Rio.

Ericsson 3 is expected to complete this leg in the early hours of tomorrow morning, followed by Ericsson 4 and PUMA later the same day. Computer routing software is predicting a finish for both Green Dragon and Telefónica Blue on 28 March, but with 450 nm still to run and the possibility of the wind fading, the finishing order for these two is far from a done deal.

Leg Five Day 40: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) STEALTHPLAY
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 254
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +86
Green Dragon IRL/CHI (Ian Walker/GBR) +459
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +623

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