Sunday, 25 January 2009

Volvo Ocean Race: Boat-Breaking Conditions on Leg 4

Ericsson 4 under storm jib alone in 50 knots of wind and stormy seas. Image copyright Guy Salter/Ericsson 4/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Volvo Ocean Race media

After spending the past 24 hours bracing themselves for ‘hellish’ conditions, today the fleet took the brunt of the anticipated storm in the Luzon Strait.

At the height of what some crew members described as “horrendous conditions”, wind speeds topped out at 50 knots with maximum wave heights of 14 metres.

The main problem has come from the steep seas caused by the wind blowing against the prevailing current, resulting in a sharp, steep sea state.

Over the past 12 hours, the fleet has been short-tacking up the coast of the Philippine Island Luzon, seeking whatever shelter it could find near the shore.

“We have been sheltering behind Luzon Island for most of the day after trying to go upwind in 45+ knots," wrote Guy Salter, the Media Crew member aboard Ericsson 4.

“All I can say is that it was far from pleasant. We ended up sailing the last few hours under storm jib only, slowly creeping our way closer to the top of the Philippines before waiting for an ease in pressure to attempt the crossing over to Taiwan and through some very tidal seas, which could be boat-wreckers to say the least," he added.

His words proved prophetic, as some of those who ventured out into the Luzon Strait, found it didn’t take long for the challenging conditions to exact a toll.

At 02:00 GMT, PUMA turned south while in the lead and headed downwind. They have now anchored in a bay just south of the town of Vigan. Read reported in an audio interview, with Amanda Blackley, that PUMA have a broken boom (SailRaceWin: see article below for further details).

Boat speeds have dropped off as the fleet shelters from the storm. Delta Lloyd has suspended racing, while PUMA is also at anchor. Image copyright Volvo Ocean Race.

Read said: “We’re busted and we are in a harbour. It’s pretty disappointing. Quite a devastating day for us. We have broken our boom in half. At the time, there was 50 knots of breeze and 20-foot seas, with waves breaking over the top of the boat. We haven’t suspended racing, we just don’t happen to be sailing right now.”

Meanwhile, Telefonica Black circled near the coast for almost three hours to change to their storm trysail and continuing. This sail change was before it even began to get really ugly.

By 11:30 GMT Telefonica Black had experienced a crack in the hull. They turned back to the coast, nursing a compromised hull to safety. They plan to take the time and assess the damage before planning their next steps.

Delta Lloyd turned back from the Luzon Strait for the calmer waters of the coast to repair a damaged steering wheel, ripped mainsail and a damaged mast track. The team has since suspended racing for at least 12 hours and is currently anchored in harbour.

At 0830 GMT Green Dragon, already nursing a damaged rig, followed Delta Lloyd’s lead and headed inshore. The boat has suffered damage to the forward ring frame.

“Our intention is to make some repairs and get underway”, Ian Walker said, in a radio interview. The forward ring frame has disintegrated and parted from the hull, so the crew has to try to reinforce it and re-bond it to the hull. “We have some materials and some know-how and we will use a bit of ingenuity”, Walker said.

Green Dragon has not retired from the leg. The team will try to make a good repair and carry on as best they can.

There are now three boats still sailing. In the lead at 13:00 and holding it together in the Luzon Strait was Bouwe Bekking and Telefonica Blue.

Ericsson 4 reefed down in 50 knots of wind. Image copyright Guy Salter/Ericsson 4/Volvo Ocean Race.

It seems that both the Ericsson boats have elected to watch and see how Telefonica Blue’s passage developed. They have no competition for second and third place right now, and there is no need to rush out there and take a chance on breaking their boats.

Telefonica Blue is now tackling the Luzon Strait. Bekking says is will be a case of ‘survival’ now, for the next 36 hours or so. “We are going to take it easy, there is too much at stake”, he said.

Race Meteorologist, Jennifer Lilly says that the winds along the west coast of Luzon were just east of northerly and building to between 25 and 30 knots, with stronger gusts. The sea state had also increased with swells already topping 3 metres. She expects the winds will continue to increase over the next 24 hours to 40 knots, with stronger gusts in the Luzon Strait.

Lilly says that the next 24 hours will also see a transition to colder air temperatures and water temperatures as the fleet sails into the strong Kuroshio Current. Because of the strong winds blowing against the strong current, the seas are likely to build to almost twice their current height. Not only will the seas be large, but they will also be steep. In simple terms, they will look more like breakers at the beach than typical ocean swells.

Leg Four Day 7: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

1. Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTF 1022 nm
2. Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) +78
3. Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +79
4. Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +80
5. Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +107
6. PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +125
7. Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) SUSPENDED RACING
8. Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) DNS

Volvo Ocean Race

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