VOR fleet faces "brutal" conditions
[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] As the fleet heads down to 54 degrees south, Ericsson 3 has extended her lead in conditions that Green Dragon’s skipper Ian Walker describes as “brutal”. The fleet is barrelling towards Cape Horn, just under 400 miles away and less than 24 hours ahead.
Ericsson 4 is now 48 nm behind Ericsson 3, dropping 15 nm in the last 24 hours as the teams battle through the Southern Ocean, pushing boats and people to the limits. It’s far from just another day in the office; it’s the furious fifties in full force.
“It’s borderline of what boat and crew can take,” says Ericsson 3’s navigator, Aksel Magdahl. Ericsson 3 has measured a wind speed of a steady 38 knots over the last hour, with frequent gusts of 46 – 50 knots.
Rough weather for Telefonica Blue. South Pacific Ocean, 15 March 2009. Photo copyright Gabriele Olivo / Telefonica Blue / Volvo Ocean Race
“I think this is a record wind speed for Ericsson 3 so far. We have had to throttle back completely, furl the headsail and are sailing with a bottom-reefed mainsail only,” explains Magdahl. The boat is still reaching at 18 – 20 knots and the team will hoist a small staysail once the breeze and sea state settles. Magdahl describes the conditions as ‘terrifying’.
“The boat’s movements are violent, and one can feel how she twists in every gust or when landing after launching off a wave.” He says that the crew becomes very conservative for a long time after sailing in the conditions like this.
Ericsson 4 has been piling the pressure onto the Nordic boat for some days now, and the crew is showing signs of wear and tear from the constant salt spray and cold. Navigator Jules Salter says that Ericsson 4 has had a good pasting from the Southern Ocean.
“In line with the forecast and from observations of the low we have been tracking, we met some of its mighty force today,” he said. “This is when the crews dig deep to keep it all together in boat and people-breaking conditions,” he said.
Green Dragon is also sailing conservatively to avoid the peak winds of the low pressure. Walker says that they have throttled back on several occasions as the slamming of the hull became intolerable.
“This will cost us precious miles, particularly as we are first to fall off the [weather] system, but it is a decision I am happy with. Deep in the Southern Ocean, a thousand miles from anywhere is not the place for hoisting the ‘hero’ flag,” he said.
Telefónica Blue however, has not had any major gales in their part of the world, 795 nm from Ericsson 3, even though they too are in the ‘furious fifties’.
“It looks like the weather isn’t set to give us too much of a beating in the next few days on the way down to the Horn, which comes as a relief to everyone onboard,” said Bouwe Bekking.
However, Ian Walker sums up the conditions for the rest of the fleet when he says:
“We will remain cautious and respectful of where we are in the world and boat we are in.”
Leg Five Day 31: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)
Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) DTF 2632 nm
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +48
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +174
Green Dragon IRL/CHI (Ian Walker/GBR) +262
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +795