Monday, 6 April 2009

VOR: Telefonica Blue Rules in Rio

Start of the In-Port race in Guananbara Bay. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Riath Al-Samarrai

"What a result," screamed Wouter Verbraak. "Unbelievable."

The new era of Team Delta Lloyd was welcomed with a maiden podium finish, but Bouwe Bekking had the biggest grin at the end of the 'Light In-Port Race' in Rio de Janeiro today.

His Telefonica Blue team were seemingly out of the running when they passed the first turning mark in fourth place, 27 seconds off PUMA's well-earned lead.

But, having chosen the left-hand side of the track (looking upwind) on the downwind run, they profited from a wind shift and stormed to the front of the fleet.

They got to the bottom mark 20 seconds clear of Delta Lloyd - the only team to join them on the left having been sixth at the first mark - before extending to 50 seconds clear of PUMA on the beat upwind.

Ultimately they stretched their advantage to 54 seconds, celebrating their second win from four in-port races, but, more significantly, they gained half a point on PUMA in the overall standings and one-and-a-half on Ericsson 4.

"It feels pretty nice, to be honest," said Bekking, the team's offshore skipper and inshore tactician. "We sailed very well, made very few mistakes and I think the result shows that."

His team are now two points short of PUMA, while Ericsson 4, who finished fourth today, are a further nine-and-a-half points up.

"It's only a small gain for us, but it all counts," he said. "That was a great result for Delta Lloyd. They sailed a superb race and it's also helped us by finishing ahead of Ericsson 4."

Telefonica Blue, skippered by Iker Martinez (ESP) Bouwe Bekking (NED) finish first in the Light In-port Race in the Volvo Ocean Race in Rio de Janeiro. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

At times Roberto Bermudez's team looked set for an even better result, claiming second when the wind shifted on the first run. On the way back upwind PUMA regained the spot, but il mostro skipper Ken Read had mixed feeling's about the result.

"We sailed well and got a point off Ericsson 4," Read said. Irrespective, he appeared bemused by his team's ability to finish anywhere but first, having taken second or third at 11 of 14 opportunities from legs, in-port races and scoring gates.

"We are the proverbial bridesmaid out here, we can't our help ourselves," he laughed. "This is what we do, we come in second. It's a shame, we had a good race going and Telefonica had a nice little breeze line that none of us had and went from pretty far back into a nice little lead. It was a pretty fluky day, but this is the story of our lives right now, but we'll take second, put a point on E4."

For a while his team held pole position after another superb start in which they were the only team to sail on port tack. They reached the top mark in first, but on the run Blue and Delta Lloyd came charging by courtesy of their favourable wind shift.

Despite losing second place, Delta Lloyd celebrated like champions. They had previously never finished higher than sixth in any stage, but the team has undergone major surgery. A new rig, new sails and several new crew members seemed to make a huge difference to the team that missed leg five because of serious damage.

"All credit to Bochecha (Brazilian Andre Fonseca), our tactician, he knows this place like his back pocket," Verbraak said. "It wasn't boat speed. We are still slow in light conditions (today fluctuated between 6 and 12 knots)." The navigator particularly enjoyed beating Ericsson 4 at the end of the final run.

"Our great moment was when we made a dummy-gybe against Ericsson 4 at the last downwind," he said. "They gybed away and we continued to the lay-line and got third place. We just sailed so well."

Bermudez put the result in perspective. "This is great," he said. "Really great. But we need to do more in the offshore legs. We sailed well today and there are lots of good things about this team, but we need to do well offshore and keep on fighting to St Petersburg."

Understandably, Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael was less pleased with his day's work. They were third at the top mark but fourth at every other check-point, meaning the home favourite could not give a win to his many fans at dockside.

"We could have done better, we didn't use the opportunities we had," he said. "We had a good start and we had a few opportunities we didn't use too well. It's a natural result. Point wise we haven't lost too much."

Ericsson 3, who fell from second at the top mark to seventh at the end, were also downbeat. They suffered a penalty on the second beat and never recovered, but skipper Magnus Olsson said his crew needed to improve their decision making on short courses.

"It's not quite right," he said after his team failed to get on an in-port podium for the third time in three attempts (they missed the Qingdao inshore race). "All the decisions need to be made fast and perhaps we are not doing that in a good way. Lack of experience in sailing big boats inshore in a tight fleet. But we enjoyed it."

Not as much as Delta Lloyd. And certainly not as much as Telefonica Blue.

Volvo Ocean Race

No comments: