Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Volvo Ocean Race fleet encounters icebergs

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Down at 50 degrees south, Green Dragon has seen ice. Three bergs, that skipper Ian Walker estimated were 100 metres across and the size of a football pitch, were spotted shining in the darkness.

The boat passed two bergs to windward and one to leeward. “I noticed this morning that a few more people are now wearing survival suits and we have made a point of closing all the water tight doors,” Ian noted.

Related audioGreen Dragon's skipper says he just wants it over and done with!
Daylight came as a relief to the crew who have now gybed north towards the safety of the gate that was supposed to keep the fleet away from ice.

“Whilst I would love to see an iceberg in the daylight, I will be more than happy not to see any more ice in this race,” reported Ian.

Along with rounding Cape Horn, the sighting of an iceberg is something of a highlight of the Southern Ocean. Onboard Telefónica Blue, Spaniard Jordi Calafat is longing to see a berg.

“Cape Horn and seeing an iceberg will make this trip around world complete for him,” said skipper Bouwe Bekking.

For rookery New Zealander Chris Main, a helmsman on Green Dragon, the marathon leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race has been something of an adventure. Having never sailed a Volvo Open 70, Main arrived in Qingdao two days before the start, hoping, at least, to have two days sailing before the start of the 12,300 leg to Rio, but it was either too foggy or too windy.

“The start day turned out to be just right for my first ever sail on a Volvo Open 70, and with 40 days to Rio, the boys reckoned I’d have plenty of time to learn the ropes and be well and truly ready to get off,” Main says.

Life onboard the Green Dragon has been full of ‘extremes’. “Beforehand you think about the sailing, the speed of the boats big waves and night time sail changes, but the real extreme experience is living in one of these ocean racing beasts while hurtling around the world’s oceans,” he explains.

Green Dragon encounters icebergs. South Pacific Ocean, 11 March 2009. Photo copyright Guo Chuan / Green Dragon Racing

On PUMA, skipper Ken Read reports that the crew are commenting on how thin each is looking. “It is interesting how you can especially feel your legs getting weaker, being in such a confined space for days and weeks on end,” he said.

According to Rick Deppe, PUMA’s MCM, the crew are devouring all the food he can put in front of them, but still disappearing before his eyes.

“No sooner are the day snacks put out than they disappear up on deck never to be seen again. I’ve witnessed people using a finger to get the last of the spaghetti sauce out of the bottom of the serving cooler,” he observed.

Meanwhile, in the drag race to the ice gate, Ericsson 3 - the freight train at the head of the fleet - is beginning to slow as she too drops off the weather system that abandoned the chasing pack yesterday. Her average speed is down to 13 knots allowing small gains to be made by Ericsson 4, PUMA and Green Dragon.

“The next week of sailing has the potential to be the most exciting of the whole race,” says Ken Read. “We are in a neck and neck race with Ericsson 4, and, as for Ericsson 3, well anything might happen.”

Read reports that PUMA is blasting along between 18 and 24 knots and that the boat is jumping around and banging in the most violent way imaginable.

Not so for Telefónica Blue who is trapped by light airs in the south. “Another day in paradise. It could have been so nice if we had some boats around us,” said Bouwe Bekking.

Helmsman Simon Fisher adds, “Sadly, it has been another slow day for us and things seem to be set to stay that way as a ridge of high pressure is extending out in front of us, putting up a wall between us and the leaders.”

Telefónica Blue continues her fight, but is averaging only 10 knots and is now nearly 800 nm adrift of the leaders. “Even with all the optimism in the world, it is starting to get a little frustrating now,” Fisher said.

As soon as the leading pack are clear of the ice gate, the race south will begin and with it, for them, will come some tactical options.

Leg Five Day 26: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) DTF 4,326 nm
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +259
PUMA USA (Ken Read/USA) +287
Green Dragon IRL/CHI (Ian Walker/GBR) +565
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +799

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