Sunday, 17 May 2009

VOR: Ericsson Racing Team Endures Foggy Start to Leg 7

Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4 sail along Boston's city front. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

by Victoria Low

The combination of fog, a postponement and an inbound oil tanker made for an eventful start to Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race for Ericsson Racing Team.

The 2,250-nautical mile leg, bound for Galway, Ireland, featured a windward-leeward lap of Boston's Inner Harbor before the fleet set sail offshore. Ericsson Racing Team's two yachts cleared the start line gate after the lap in fourth and sixth.

Ericsson 3's crew ready to go! Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

At the first position report of the leg, nearly two hours after the start, the fleet was grouped 3 nautical miles from front to back. Ericsson 4, skippered by Torben Grael, was among a group 1 mile off the lead. Magnus Olsson and the Ericsson 3 crew was another mile back.

Ericsson 4 says thanks Boston. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

As the crews prepared to dock out this morning, the sailors said they expected a chilly leg.

"I haven't been through it before, but the water temperature in the Labrador current is 2 to 3 degrees Celsius," said Ericsson 4 bowman Ryan Godfrey, who's embarking on his first transatlantic crossing. "That's a lot colder than we had going around the Horn. We had 6 degrees or so. So it's a lot colder."

"You can never underestimate a transatlantic crossing," said Ericsson 3 helmsman Thomas Johanson. "Although it's a short leg, it's going to be a tough leg. It's cold and we might have icebergs, fishing boats, fog . all of that."

If the action on the leg is anything like the start, the crews will be hard-pressed on the estimated eight-day leg. The start occurred 20 minutes late due to the misfire of the start gun with 50 seconds to the scheduled start, which forced the race committee to redo the sequence.

Ericsson 4 crew waving goodbye. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

Once underway a fog bank engulfed the Inner Harbor and shrouded the turning mark at the eastern end from the thousands of spectators at Fan Pier. Not only was the rounding hidden, but so was an inbound oil tanker, which prevented for two minutes one yacht from rounding the mark.

Ericsson 4 and Ericsson 3 were fifth and sixth at the first and second marks. Ericsson 4 was able to overtake Green Dragon shortly after the second mark when the Irish/Chinese entry had a bad rounding.

The Nordic crew on Ericsson 3 leaving Boston. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

As the fleet sailed upwind and cleared the start line gate for the second and final time, it had to contend with the oil tanker once more. The tanker was secured to two tug boats, which were guiding it up the harbor. The fleet sailed to leeward of the rig and into a large wind shadow, which saw the headsails backwind.

The fog on the harbor only confirmed the forecast of a foggy first night. The crews are also expecting a quick trip to the scoring gate, which is about 1,000 nautical miles into the leg.

"We're expecting a mixed bag, a little bit of everything," said Ericsson 3 watch captain Richard Mason. "It's going to be cold and wet. For the first 30 hours we're going to be doing some super-wet reaching in fog and 2- to 3-degree water. My bag's full of woolies."

Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4 on Boston's Inner Harbor. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

The North Atlantic Ocean is renowned for floating debris, so the two Ericsson crews have decided to carry a spare daggerboard in the event they hit something. The crews can change daggerboards in about 30 minutes.

Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4 also have some new sails aboard for the leg. Ericsson 3 has a new A4 spinnaker in anticipation of some hard running conditions later on the leg. Ericsson 4 also has some new downwind sails.

"We're hoping to improve our downwind performance," said Tony Mutter, Ericsson 4 trimmer and sail designer. "We've got some different concepts which we've developed from our sail-testing program the past few years."

Ericsson 4 bowman, Phil Jameson. Image copyright Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Team.

(May 16, 2009, at 1912 GMT)
1. Telefónica Black, 2,868 nautical miles to finish
1. Telefónica Blue, same
3. Ericsson 4, +1 NM
3. Puma, same
3. Delta Lloyd, same
6. Ericsson 3, +2 NM
7. Green Dragon, +3 NM

Ericsson Racing Team
Volvo Ocean Race

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