Thursday, 19 March 2009

VOR: Ericsson Racing Team Leads Volvo Ocean Race Past Cape Horn

Thomas Johanson at the helm of Ericsson 3. Image copyright Gustav Morin/Ericsson Racing Team.

by Victoria Low

Ericsson Racing Team's Nordic crew aboard Ericsson 3, led by Swedish skipper Magnus Olsson, was the first yacht past legendary Cape Horn today at 1222 GMT.

The International crew on Ericsson 4, led by skipper Torben Grael of Brazil, followed at 1448 GMT.

The rounding of Cape Horn is a milestone in any sailor's career, professional or amateur. Going back to the golden days of the Age of Discovery many have come before, but not all have survived.

"Anytime you go round Cape Horn your heart beats a little faster," said Olsson, the 60-year-old who marked his sixth rounding of the Horn and third time in the lead of the Volvo Ocean Race. "You can feel the historical moments of this place, all of the seamen who've fought to get round it. It's fantastic."

Rounding the Horn brings with it many traditions, including a gold earring, the right to put a foot on the table at mealtime and tattoos of tall ships under full sail. For Ericsson Racing Team, the achievement of being first and second past the Horn brought with it more points for the crews' scorelines.

Cape Horn marked the second scoring gate on Leg 5. The team was first and second at the first gate on March 4, but that time it was Ericsson 4 which led Ericsson 3. The Nordic crew was happy to turn the tables.

"Everyone is very happy, it's a great feeling onboard," said Gustav Morin, Ericsson 3 media crewman. "It's a nice morning but quite misty. We could see Cape Horn for awhile. We celebrated with a drink of Captain Morgan rum. Captain Morgan's going to lead us to Rio now because Magnus is so tired."

Ericsson 3 added 4 points to its scoreline and has 35.5 points. Overall race leader Ericsson 4 increased its scoreline by 3.5 points and now has 56.5 total points.

"Cape Horn for sailors is like climbing Mount Everest," said Grael, who passed the Horn for the second time in his career.

At 12,300 nautical miles, Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race is the longest in the 35-year history of the circumnavigation race. Currently the fleet is in Day 32 of the voyage that began in Qingdao, China, and will conclude in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The past two weeks have seen the fleet navigating the Southern Ocean, both revered and admired for its strong westerly winds. The conditions, however, have been contrary to expectations. The fleet has spent a large amount of time sailing upwind or close-reaching.

Even the approach to Cape Horn was atypical. Instead of approaching from the southwest, the fleet has been in a downwind jibing duel along the Chilean coast.

"About 48 hours ago we had a rough night with strong winds and only storm sails up, we had to slow down to keep the boat in one piece," said Aksel Magdahl, Ericsson 3 navigator. "Sailing down the Chilean coastline Ericsson 4 made gains by pushing a little harder than us. They probably had a bit more sail area up. We played it a bit safer. It's what we could do with our exhaustion level."

Ericsson 3 grabbed the lead on March 6 after it played a tactical move that saw it split from the fleet after clearing the first scoring gate. Late last week Ericsson 3 had opened a lead of 280 nautical miles on its teammate Ericsson 4, but since then the International crew has steadily reduced its deficit.

"Looks like the Ericsson 3 boys have managed to hold us off, and fair play to them," said Ericsson 4 media crewman Guy Salter. "They played a good move early after the last scoring gate, a move which none of the rest of us were as brave to play and go against all that is traditional with the New Zealand to the Horn leg. But then, this leg hasn't really been very traditional."

The passing of Cape Horn also marks the crossover to the Atlantic Ocean from the Pacific, and the finish line in Rio is about 2,200 miles away. While history suggests that the leader at Cape Horn wins into Rio, there are still many obstacles and decisions along the route.

"There are passing lanes on this trip north," said Ericsson Racing Team meteorologist Chris Bedford. "In previous races, leading boats have fallen into holes off the Argentinean coast only to see the fleet catch up and pass. Similarly, the finish at Rio can be in very light winds, and places can be lost without a little but of luck at the finish. This leg is far from over and I wouldn't count out any of the top four out at this point."

(Mar. 17, 2009, 1259 GMT)
1. Ericsson 3, 2,264 nautical miles to finish
2. Ericsson 4, +18 NM
3. Puma, +119 NM
4. Green Dragon, +210 NM
5. Telefónica Blue, +746 NM

Ericsson Racing Team
Volvo Ocean Race

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