Tuesday, 17 February 2009

VOR: GREEN DRAGON LEG FIVE DAY 3 QFB: received 16.02.09 0604 GMT

by Ian Walker

My geography lesson is continuing as we have now swept past Korea and Japan out of the Yellow and China Seas into the Pacific. At daybreak today we had some stunning scenery as we threaded our way through two Japanese islands (well volcanoes actually) called Kuchino Shima and Nakano Shima. That’s the closest I have ever been to Japan - these islands look a great place to explore.

It has been a tough 36 hours with winds in the 20s and 30s (knots) and lots of pressed up reaching. The decks have been awash and it has been survival suits, lifejackets and harnesses all round, day and night.

Sail selection has been key as changing sails costs you many miles because you have to slow the boat down to give the guys on the bow a chance to set up the change. Slowing down from five knots to 15 knots for 20 minutes costs you over three miles as well as what you lose sailing lower. Some we have done well, and some we haven't. All the time we have been trying to remember that it is a long leg and we don't need to take unnecessary risks too early on.

At the moment the boat and sails are in good shape. Everybody is pretty tired onboard as sleeping and eating is not easy in these conditions, but right now we have a slight reprieve with winds of under 20 knots. We are catching up on chores like tidying the boat, checking for damage, eating and bailing out the water that finds its way into every compartment of the boat. The good news is that the water temperature has risen from five degrees at the start to 21 degrees now, so slowly the thermals, hats and gloves are coming off. I'm sure it won't be long before we are moaning about it being too hot.

As far as the race goes, we are hanging on to the coattails of Puma and Ericsson 4 but that is no easy task in stability reaching conditions, where they have a clear speed advantage. It was fun to lead Ericsson 4 for a few scheds in the lighter air, but rather daunting at the ease with which they overhauled us and Puma. That boat flies on a reach, as does Ericsson 3 who are about three miles directly ahead of us.

It’s always fun to have a boat within sight as you have something to gauge your performance against. They have done well to get back in the race after starting late, but they have taken advantage of far better wind than us since they started. I suspect it won't be long before Telefónica Blue is back in the mix too.

Today would have been the birthday of my good friend and former sailing partner John Merricks. How he would have loved to have been doing what I am now. We could have done with his driving skills onboard last night as we fought to keep control at up to 30 knots of boatspeed in the pitch black. He was one of the best heavy air sailors I ever sailed with or against.

Volvo Ocean Race

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