Saturday, 24 January 2009

VOR: Ericsson Racing Team Preparing for Strong Winds and Big Waves

Dawn on board Ericsson 3. Image copyright Gustav Morin/Ericsson 3/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Victoria Low

As night falls on the Volvo Ocean Race fleet in the South China Sea, the conditions are beginning to deteriorate as well.

"Things are starting to get lumpy," said New Zealander David Endean, pitman aboard Ericsson International. "We've got 23 to 25 knots and we've reduced sail area with a reef and smaller headsail. We're starting to slam harder because there's a bit of current against the wind, chopping up a two-meter swell."

Dave Endean and Stu Bannatyne aboard Ericsson 4. Image copyright Guy Salter/Ericsson Racing Team/Volvo Ocean Race.

The fleet is bound for the Leg 4 finish port of Qingdao, China, some 1,200 nautical miles away. The Ericsson Racing Team yachts and competitors were west of the Philippines islands Hermana Mayor and Hermana Menor and approaching Luzon Strait, the body of water separating Taiwan and the Philippines.

After a week of ups and downs, which at times saw Ericsson Nordic leading and Ericsson International last, today the team's two yachts were in the middle of the pack. Magnus Olsson's Ericsson Nordic was placed fifth, 37 nautical miles off the lead, and Torben Grael's Ericsson International sixth, 42 miles back.

Ericsson 4 bowman, Ryan Godfrey, goes aloft to patch holes in the genoa. Image copyright Guy Salter/Ericsson Racing Team/Volvo Ocean Race.

Ericsson International, the overall race leader, was dropped to the back of the standings earlier in the week when it sailed into the middle of a squall and out of wind pressure. At one point the blue yacht was sailing backwards while boats less than two miles either side sailed away.

Ericsson Nordic's bid for the fleet lead was scuttled when it decided to abort navigating through Dangerous Grounds, a poorly charted area of shoals and atolls. Olsson and mates lately have been struggling with their boatspeed, which has led them to question everything they're doing.

"We have lost a lot of miles from our decision to go outside the Dangerous Grounds, and we are struggling to get back," said Sweden's Gustav Morin, the onboard media crewman. "At one stage today we even felt we were really slow and we were ripping our hair out, trimming and trimming, trying to figure out what we could do better."

Ericsson Nordic crewmembers have also suffered some injuries. Just hours into the leg that started last Sunday in Singapore, navigator Aksel Magdahl bruised his knee when he was swept into the port-side daggerboard while helping on the bow with a sail change.

Yesterday Olsson, the interim skipper, got one of his thumbs caught in the running backstay winch as the heavily loaded line was being eased. The mishap crushed the top of his thumbnail and it had to be removed.

A log floats past Ericsson 3, one of the many hazardous items of debris the fleet has to deal with, on leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Singapore to Qingdao, China. Image copyright Gustav Morin/Ericsson 3/Volvo Ocean Race.

Upon departing Singapore the sailors all said that Luzon Strait was going to be the worst part of the leg. With a strong northerly wind blowing against a north-flowing current of 2 or 3 knots, the seas can get steep and the temperatures can dip to freezing. It has the sailors on alert.

"Tomorrow night is when it's supposed to come to a head," Endean said. "We're expecting at least 35 knots and there's a rumour of maybe six-metre waves. We don't know how much we'll see, but we're preparing for the worst and planning for the worst. We just have to make sure we get the boat through it so we can keep pushing on afterwards."

(Jan. 23, 2009, 1309 GMT)
1. Telefónica Black, 1,229 nautical miles to finish
2. Puma, +5 NM
3. Telefónica Blue, +15 NM
4. Delta Lloyd, +31 NM
5. Ericsson 3, +37 NM
6. Ericsson 4, +42 NM
7. Green Dragon, +46 NM

Ericsson Racing Team

Volvo Ocean Race

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