Friday, 30 January 2009

VOR: Ericsson Racing Team Places Third into China

Ericsson 4, skippered by Torben Grael (BRA) (pictured), finished third, on leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Singapore to Qingdao, China at 09:04:00 GMT. Torben Grael brought Ericsson 4 alongside just under an hour after PUMA Ocean Racing, to claim six points for third place. Grael said: "This leg has been very hard on the boats, but our boat has taken it well and at least we got here, but you are never sure. The crew has been perfect." Image copyright David Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Victoria Low

Ericsson Racing Team’s Ericsson 4 retained it’s overall lead in the Volvo Ocean Race by concluding Leg 4 here today with a third place finish.

Skippered by Brazilian Torben Grael (Niterói), a five-time Olympic medalist, the International crew has totaled 45 points and leads the race by 3.5 points. Ericsson 4 completed the 2,500-nautical-mile leg that began in Singapore in 11 days, 4 hours and 4 minutes.

Dockside talk in chilly Qingdao centered on how relieved the crew was to finish the leg on the podium and, more importantly, with the boat intact. When asked to describe the leg in one word, the responses were “a chore” and “bouncy” and “painful.”

“Our one goal was to arrive here in good shape. We got a podium position and we’re still leading the race. I’m a happy man,” said Grael, who finished third in the 2005-’06 Volvo Ocean Race.

The pre-leg talk in the tropical climes of Singapore discussed the potential for difficult conditions on the leg. With a short layover of eight days until the Qingdao In-Port Race (scheduled Feb. 7), there’s scant time to carryout extensive repairs.

Difficult conditions are an understatement. The leg was on the wind until the last 24 hours, when it went to the beam. For five days including last weekend, the crew was sailing upwind in gale-force conditions and steep seas. It forced a different style of sailing than Ericsson 4 is used to.

Torben Grael, after finishing leg 4. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

“It’s the lives of the crew and the whole program as well,” Grael said. “If you destroy the boat on this leg, you risk the whole program. It was very important to arrive in good shape.”

Watch captain Brad Jackson estimates they sailed anywhere between 60 and 70 percent of maximum efficiency at times.

“We played it very conservative and that was the plan, to make sure we got here,” said Jackson. “We didn’t put ourselves in position to have a shot at winning the leg. We were very cautious and conservative, that made it quite painful as well.”

Ericsson 4 never played it safer as when it was huddled under the lee shore of the northern Philippines with just a storm jib set and two men on deck for nearly 12 hours waiting for the wind to abate so it could cross Luzon Strait, the body of water between Taiwan and the Philippines.

“Three boats left Luzon before us, and only one finished,” said Grael. “It was a wise decision to spend the night in Luzon.”

The constant pounding took a toll on the yacht. Ericsson 4 lost a foredeck pad eye and parts of the deck, its wind instruments and nearly blew out its mainsail. The shore crew is likely to find other nicks and bruises upon its examination of the yacht.

“We’re pretty happy, the boat went well,” said bowman Phil “Blood” Jameson. “We didn’t push it as hard as maybe we should have for the result. But she’s in one piece and no one’s injured. Everyone’s in good spirits.”

Jameson set a personal record for somersaults, twice going head over heels within one hour while belowdecks. “I also got ejected from my bunk once. It’s never nice waking up in mid-air,” said the first-time Volvo participant.

“Going upwind in a lot of wind is never fun,” Jameson continued. “On deck you have some control. But belowdecks, you’re waiting for a bang that can split the boat in half or throw the mast out. You have to have a lot of trust in the guys on deck. Some of it was bad, but 24 hours ago we had some champagne sailing. It was beautiful.”

The crew features navigator Jules Salter (Cowes, England), watch captains Stu Bannatyne and Jackson (both Auckland, New Zealand), trimmers/helmsmen Horácio Carabelli (Florianópolis, Brazil), Tony Mutter (Auckland, New Zealand), João Signorini (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), pitman David Endean (Auckland, New Zealand), bowmen Ryan Godfrey (Adelaide, Australia) and Jameson (Auckland, New Zealand), and media crewman Guy Salter (Titchfield, England).

Ericsson Racing Team

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