Wednesday, 15 April 2009

VOR: Ericsson Racing Team Hones in on Leg 6 Lead

The Code Zero headsail on Ericsson 4 is sheeted tight as the crew works upwind in the Volvo Ocean Race. Image copyright Guy Salter/Ericsson 4/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Victoria Low

A 330-nautical mile run in 24 hours is pedestrian for the Volvo Open 70 yacht, but it's been enough to push Ericsson 4 onto the stern of Telefónica Blue in the battle for the fleet lead on Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Spanish boat has held the lead since Sunday morning, but overall race leader Ericsson 4, skippered by Brazilian Torben Grael, has steadily closed the gap. In the past 24 hours Ericsson 4 has halved its deficit to 8 nautical miles at the 1307 GMT position report.

"A couple of active cumulus clouds kept us busy last night but seem to have done us no harm as we managed to gain some ground on Telefonica Blue and open up a few miles on the chasing Ericsson 3, Puma and Telefónica Black, with whom we had spent most of yesterday," said Ericsson 4 bowman Ryan Godfrey.

Grael's International crew separated from the pack in a cloud line, while Ericsson 3 languished behind.

"We have lost a lot to most of our opponents. Most obvious, we lost a lot to Ericsson 4, which had been just beside us for a long time," said Ericsson 3 media crewman Gustav Morin.

"We are generally trying to avoid the big squalls, but it seems that we sometimes just have to go straight into them," Morin continued. "Once early this morning we were really happy to avoid a big cloud while Ericsson 4 didn't. Unfortunately for us, they got more wind inside the cloud and took of a couple of miles while we were lying still with no breeze at all."

The fleet is making way towards Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, an island about 200 nautical miles northeast of Natal, Brazil, and the lone scoring gate of the leg. The gate stretches eastward from the island along a line of latitude. The first boat earns 4 points and each boat thereafter a half-point less.

At today's position report, the wind was blowing mostly from the east-northeast between 10 and 12 knots, fast reaching conditions for the VO70s whose boatspeeds were nearly equal to the windspeeds. But the wind is forecast to soften tomorrow and the crews will have to chase the cloud lines in the search for pressure.

"The next 18 to 24 hours or so will be mainly a boatspeed test and some careful cloud management," said team meteorologist Chris Bedford. "Tomorrow, there could be nervous times for everyone while the breeze goes into a 12- to 24-hour period of less than 10 knots and possibly down to 5 or 6 knots at times. Also, another batch of squalls is expected with a shake-up possible from that. Once through the light spot, the final 24 hours into the scoring gate look reasonably good with recovering east-southeast/southeast pressure, but still a few squalls around to possibly mix things up."

The fleet departed Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday afternoon and is expected at the scoring gate on Thursday night.

Sailing approximately 170 nautical miles southeast of Salvador, Brazil, means the yachts are navigating the many oil rigs off the Brazilian coastline.

"It's quite impressive how the oil industry has grown around this area with a large amount of oil rigs and ships around. They look like cities when you see them in the distance at night," said Ericsson 4 trimmer Horacio Carabelli.

"The temperature has been rising as we get closer to the Equator," Carabelli continued. "There have been a lot of dolphins around, jumping like crazy and going in all directions, probably feeding. They paid a bit of attention on our yacht, but soon they went back to their fishing business."

(At 1307 GMT, Apr. 14, 2009)
1. Telefónica Blue, 4,232 nautical miles to finish
2. Ericsson 4, +8 NM
3. Delta Lloyd, +14 NM
4. Ericsson 3, +20 NM
5. Telefónica Black, +21 NM
6. Puma, +25 NM
7. Green Dragon, +32 NM

Ericsson Racing Team
Volvo Ocean Race

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