Sunday, 24 May 2009

VOR: Ericsson Racing Team Hails Galway After Win Across Atlantic

A rock star welcome for the crew of Ericsson 4, in the middle of the night. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

by Victoria Low

Ericsson Racing Team won its third consecutive leg of the Volvo Ocean Race early this morning when Ericsson 4 arrived here to a rapturous midnight celebration at the conclusion of Leg 7.

Skippered by Brazilian Torben Grael, Ericsson 4 scored 11 of a possible 12 points on the leg - three points for third at the scoring gate and eight points for the leg win - and now has 92 points overall. Ericsson 4 crossed the 2,550-nautical mile course from Boston, USA in 7 days, 7 hours, 34 minutes and 22 seconds.

"We're very, very happy," said Grael, 48, the winner of two Olympic gold medals and five overall. "It was a rough ride into Galway. We pushed the boat hard and she responded well. It's fantastic teamwork to have a boat so sound that we can push in those conditions. The shore team has done a fantastic job setting up the boat and the boatbuilding and design teams have done a wonderful job giving us such a nice boat. The guys did a wonderful job pushing the boat without risking too much."

Ericsson 4 arrived to what crewmembers said was the best reception yet. There was a large crowd shoreside to watch the dockside awards ceremony, and many of them came off boats that had greeted Ericsson 4 off the Aran Islands just before midnight on its approach to the finish.

Torben Grael celebrates the leg win with champagne. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

"Galway is fantastic," Grael said. "There were so many people on the sea, and all the people in the harbour cheering. For us it's fantastic because it gives you a good feeling."

Leg 7 was as cold as the finish into China, but made more difficult because it was so wet. Volvo Open 70 and wet are synonymous words in sailing vernacular, but this leg was in water temperatures around 5 degrees Celsius and heavy fog. There also was an abundance of debris in the water, from whales to turtles to fishing pots. Ericsson 4 had a couple of near collisions with whales and had to backdown during a tack to clear a fishing pot from off the keel strut.

"The leg had a bit of everything: very thick fog, cold conditions, warm conditions as we found our way through the Gulf Stream, and we had good gale force conditions across the Atlantic," said Ericsson 4 navigator Jules Salter. "It was similar to my other three crossings, but they're all subtle in different ways. The conditions were similar, but there are moments where you have lots of emotions."

Ericsson 4 was third at the scoring gate south of Newfoundland last Tuesday, crossing 20 minutes behind its two main rivals. Ericsson 4 had resigned for third at the gate in the quest for overall leg victory, surrendering a fight to win the war.

"With about an hour to the gate we decided there was no way we were going to sail over the top of the others, so we sheeted on and sailed higher than them," said Salter.

"We went for the finish instead of the scoring gate," said trimmer Tony Mutter. "It's a short leg and the forecast had wind to the end, so there wouldn't be a lot of passing lanes."

After clearing the ice exclusion zone, Ericsson 4 overhauled Telefónica Black in a boatspeed battle for first place. It sailed up to and past the Spanish yacht using a new downwind spinnaker and enjoying the strong running conditions.

"We had a good tussle with them," Salter said. "Our boat's quick. Any wind aft of the beam and we're very strong."

Ericsson 4 crosses the line in Galway. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

The Ericsson 4 International crew included skipper Grael, navigator Salter, watch captains Stu Bannatyne and Brad Jackson, trimmers Horacio Carabelli, Joao Signorini and Mutter, pitman Dave Endean, bowman Phil Jameson and Godfrey and media crewman Guy Salter.

Ericsson Racing Team has now won three consecutive legs of the race. Ericsson 3, the Nordic crew, won Leg 5 (China to Brazil) and Ericsson 4 won Leg 6 (Brazil to USA). Ericsson 4 also won Legs 1 and 2 of the race last year.

The team's second yacht was also runner-up on each leg, but that wasn't to happen a third time. When Ericsson 4 finished teammate Ericsson 3 had some 60 nautical miles remaining.

Ericsson Racing Team
Volvo Ocean Race

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