Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Magnus Woxen at the helm of Ericsson 3. Image copyright Gustav Morin/Ericsson Racing Team.
by Victoria Low
Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race is in the midst of its second week at sea, and Ericsson Racing Team's yachts hold first and third on the longest leg in the history of the race, bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The top three in the fleet have crossed the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, led by Ericsson 4 earlier today. The past few days have seen the sailors contending with the light and shifty winds and sudden squalls associated with life at the Equator.
Ericsson 4, skippered by Brazil's Torben Grael, gave up half the lead it held on Friday afternoon as a result of leading into the unsettled weather, but today had reopened an advantage of 21 nautical miles over Puma at the 1306 GMT position report.
"We think we're through the Doldrums, and we passed the Equator early on today," said Ericsson 4 media crewman Guy Salter. "We slowed down probably more than the boats behind us. On the satellite pictures there were a lot more clouds that seem to have evaporated as time went on. We slowed for a bit, but it wasn't the classic Doldrums experience through the Atlantic."
Ericsson 4 was approximately 100 nautical miles south/southeast of Nauru, the world's smallest island nation (in area). Teammate Ericsson 3, led by Sweden's inimitable Magnus Olsson, was 24 miles behind.
Eivind Melleby helming Ericsson 3 with PUMA in the distance. Image copyright Gustav Morin/Ericsson Racing Team.
"It has been a very nice and at the same time an enormously exciting day in the Volvo Ocean Race," said Gustav Morin, media crewman aboard Ericsson 3. "During the night we made huge gains on the front fleet and in the morning we could see Puma in bearing 90 degrees. And by then we were still gaining. On the [latest] sched Puma was three miles ahead and our sistership  miles. No big gains or losses during the day between us."
The fleet has covered more than 3,000 nautical miles in the first 10 days since setting off from Qingdao, China, putting the five boats on a fast pace. With the Equator cleared, the next tactical hurdle is the southern hemisphere inter-tropical convergence zone, around latitude 8 degrees South, another area of light and shifty winds.
Their decisions in the coming days will not only affect how they traverse that area, but also how they set up for a run at the leg's first scoring gate at latitude 36S. The first boat across the parallel off New Zealand earns 4 points and each boat thereafter a half-point less.
"Our long-term plan is to aim for gap between Vanuatu and Fiji, with a restriction on not passing west of Vanuatu," said team meteorologist Chris Bedford. "South of Fiji we expect the wind to be southeasterly. Because it's hard to make easting in a southeasterly wind, we would prefer to be closer to Fiji for a better angle south towards the scoring gate. To be west, near Vanuatu, could mean a course dead upwind to the gate."
Fiji lies more than 1,000 nautical miles on the horizon, which means the leaders will probably pass by there later this week.
VOLVO OCEAN RACE LEG 5 LEADERBOARD
(Feb. 23, 2009, 1306 GMT)
1. Ericsson 4, +9,303 nautical miles to finish
2. Puma, +21 NM
3. Ericsson 3, +24 NM
4. Green Dragon, +126 NM
5. Telefónica Blue, +135 NM
Ericsson Racing Team
Volvo Ocean Race