Wednesday, 29 April 2009

VOR: Ericsson Racing Team Leads Volvo Fleet Towards Boston

Phil Jameson manning the hand water pump on board Ericsson 4. Image copyright Guy Salter/Ericsson Racing Team.

by Victoria Low

Ericsson Racing Team is placed first and second on Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race with the finish in Boston less than 500 nautical miles away.

Ericsson 4, skippered by five-time Olympic medalist Torben Grael of Brazil, attained the top spot last night after emerging from Stealth play. Stealth play allows a crew to hide its position from competitors and race fans for a period of 12 hours. Ericsson 4 came out of Stealth mode at 2200 GMT and had a 31-nautical mile lead over Ericsson 3, skippered by six-time race veteran Magnus Olsson of Sweden.

At today's 1300 GMT position report, Ericsson 4 was 36 nautical miles ahead of Ericsson 3, and had 487 miles remaining to the finish off Fan Pier in Boston's Inner Harbor. It's an amazing turn around for Ericsson 4, which last Sunday trailed Telefónica Blue by 105 miles.

"We recovered well against Telefónica Blue, which we've been battling with for first place," said Grael. "But despite being in first, it's still completely open between them, Ericsson 3, Puma and us."

Conditions onboard the yachts were challenging overnight. The crews crossed a frontal boundary that quickly changed the wind strength. And with the fleet encountering the Gulf Stream, the northerly flowing current off the U.S. East Coast, the sea state was rough.

"A second cold front went past the fleet at about the same time they entered the Gulf Stream," said team meteorologist Chris Bedford. "Winds have shifted to the northwest - right on the nose - and increased to a solid 20 to 30 knots with some gusts at gale force. This is creating some massive waves which the boats are looking to escape."

The rough going was felt on Ericsson 3.

"We're trying to change to a smaller headsail and to reef the main one step more. All hands are on deck," said Gustav Morin, media crewman on Ericsson 3. "The sea state has quickly become pretty bad. The boat is slamming into the waves and the entire boat is rocking from the sails flapping when the helmsman sometimes has to steer head-to-wind in attempts to merge the boat through this crazy front. It is a messy situation, to say the least."

While Ericsson 4 was in Stealth mode the crew discovered that the water maker had broken.

"Dave Endean (onboard boat captain) was quick onto the situation and discovered that we had blown a fitting off the end of the water membrane, through which salt water is pushed under high pressure and some of the smaller water molecules are separated from the sea water," said Guy Salter, Ericsson 3 media crewman. "So it's definitely not an ideal situation to be in, as water is the only thing that we will really need over the next few days. We drink it, we cook with it and occasionally we wash in it!"

The crew has undertaken a rationing plan that sees each crewmember allotted 1.5 liters of water per day. Salter termed it a "dangerously low amount" when you're racing 24 hours a day and constantly battling dehydration. It also means that there's less water for cooking the dehydrated meals, so food consumption will be down as well.

The crew is using one of its emergency watermakers, which is hand operated and can produce up to three liters of water an hour, when constantly pumped. It's far from an ideal situation, but the only recourse left.

"Dehydration is one of the biggest problems in this race, and you are always forcing everyone to glug down as much fluid as possible," Salter said. "Even a few percent of dehydration can result in a significant decrease in brain and physical performance. If you feel thirsty, it's already way too late. So having such a small amount is far from ideal."

(At 1259 GMT, Apr. 24, 2009)
1. Ericsson 4, 487 nautical miles to finish
2. Ericsson 3, +36 NM
3. Telefónica Blue, +40
4. Puma, +62 NM
5. Delta Lloyd, +116 NM
6. Green Dragon, +125 NM
7. Telefónica Black, +131 NM

Ericsson Racing Team
Volvo Ocean Race

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