Tuesday, 16 June 2009

VOR: Leg Nine, Day Two Afternoon

PUMA Ocean Racing and Ericsson 3 in a tight battle for first place on leg 9 from Marstrand to Stockholm. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Mark Chisnell


PUMA and Ericsson 3 are still neck and next, as they approach Almagrundet lighthouse and the turn into the final straight. PUMA will be first around – but what sort of breeze will they lead the fleet into as they approach the coast?


Emails just in from the Media Crews aboard the two boats at the front of the fleet, Ericsson 3 and PUMA – they are neck and neck, with less than 20 miles to run to the finish. Here was the view from Gustav Morin aboard Ericsson 3:

“We have been side by side with PUMA for the last few hours, at one point only 50 to 100 metres apart. It is very tricky to overtake a boat when reaching, they can pretty easily close the door on you. We have been steadily doing over 20 knots for a long time and we were fighting for every wave. One boat slipped away a couple of metres to lose again a few waves later.

“Unfortunately for us, PUMA managed to slip away a bit about 20 minutes ago, but we are still on to their tail and they have to watch out when we round Almagrundet. If we can keep a close distance up till then we might have a chance. It aint over till it’s over.”

And from PUMA, this is how Rick Deppe saw it: “We are racing boat for boat with Ericsson 3. We are in front at the moment but the boys from Stockholm want it bad as well. They have made numerous attempts to break through to leeward but some brilliant driving from Erle Williams prevented them time after time. For sure they are faster, but not fast enough, we must stay between them and the mark.”


Apologies for the slowness of updates, we’ve just had something of a technical problem, but I think we’re back up and running now...

PUMA and Ericsson 3 are closing it down, just 15 or so miles to go to Amagrundet lighthouse, and another 10 or so from there. Still plenty of breeze, not quite 20 knots, and it is still shifting round to the west, creeping south of west by about ten degrees or so. It’s making for a fast sailing angle. So not much change in the rankings – in fact, the gaps are all opening, and I think that’s because the wind is shifting south of west as the boats sail north. So the leaders get the benefit of the shift first, go a little quicker and extend.


There’s an update from Telefonica Blue’s Media Crew, Gabri Olivo, and it’s all good news.

Back out on the race course, PUMA is still leading by a hair’s breadth from Ericsson 3, with Ericsson 4 a couple of miles behind and in pursuit. The other three are falling back a little in these power reaching conditions – we have returned to the 20 knot westerly wind.

Telefonica Black has moved out a little further from Green Dragon, and both boats have gained a few miles on Delta Lloyd. And time is running out, just 40 miles to the lighthouse Almagrundet, which they have to leave to port, before turning north-west towards Sandhamn and a short 10 mile leg to the finish.

I’ve just checked out the Green Dragon Navigator in the Virtual Game, and it seems like navigator, Ian Moore was expecting it to get ugly for a while at the top of Oland. This question for the game navigators was set this morning.

“We are 40 miles from the end of the island of Oland and only 170 miles from the finish but the wind has started to soften. We are six miles offshore but we are the most windward boat with our main competition for the leg, Delta Lloyd, six or eight miles further offshore. The forecasts are all predicting a large area of light winds which we are racing up the track to try and avoid. We have a number of tactical and strategic options.”

The Gamers voted for them to sail VMC (as discussed below by Gustav Morin). But in the end, it didn’t make much difference, as Ian Walker told us in the 15:45 Update, it paid to be to the west. And that did for Delta Lloyd.


Guy Salter updates us from Ericsson 4 on how PUMA and Ericsson 3 got away from them in the light spot off Oland: “The breeze became very shifty and we positioned ourselves to the east of PUMA and Ericsson 3, and when the shift finally came in we were very quickly placed back in third - and by quite a margin.

“Right now we can see PUMA leading with Ericsson 3 chasing hard but with little opportunity or room to run them down it’s looking like we will have to settle for third. We have been closing gauge on them and been making small gains on bearing - but with just under 70 miles to go it may be a little too late. The wind isn’t meant to get lighter than 14 knots and we are in the maximum predicted for the afternoon right now (18kts) - but as you get closer to land funny things can happen with the wind.

Gustav Morin, Media Crew aboard sistership, Ericsson 3 has also written in: “It is a bit hysterical now. We have been chasing PUMA almost since the start and recently we have been very close, while Ericsson 4 has lost a lot and are still a couple of miles behind and down to leeward.

“The wind has lifted (backed or rotated clockwise) and we are now reaching along in 20 knots of wind and the same boatspeed. We are very equal speed-wise with PUMA and there are two options for trying to overtake. Either you play cool, stay behind and wait for mistakes, or you do something radical.

“It seems like the wind is going to stay the entire way to Sandhamn but we think it’s going to lift. Which means that we can be brave and sail VMC (Velocity Made to Course in the Position Data Table in the Data Centre), set a bigger sail, turn to a lower course (wider wind angle (TWA) in the Form Guide) for more speed and then hope for the lift to come. Or we stay safe and go rhumb line, the shortest way.

“Magnus Olsson and Aksel Magdahl have discussed the various options and now we have put a bigger sail up and started to sail a lower course. We are not the safe-playing kind of guys.”


Ken Read mentioned in the 16:15 Update that he had all kinds of different weather data, and I’ve finally had a chance to look at the latest weather on the Race Viewer. The light spot north of Oland is visible if you click on the wind arrow icon in the title bar to bring up the wind arrows.

I’m still not sure if this is a local feature that reoccurs in a westerly, or part of the overall pressure gradient. Either way, now they are out of it they should have decent westerly breeze for the next 12 hours, which is plenty of time to get to Sandhamn. Which is what Ian Walker was telling us at the 15:45 Update. So maybe that light spot was the last turnover/passing opportunity - or maybe not, only time will tell.


It looks like PUMA may actually be a gnat’s whisker in front of Ericsson 3. And how do I know this? Well, there I was at the 15:45 Update, wondering what Ken Read was thinking, and now I know - we’ve just got an extended email from the skipper of PUMA, giving his view on the light wind area at the top of Oland. Ken Read clearly didn’t see it coming. Didn’t seem to matter:

“The drag race is on. I hope and pray that the wind holds out. We have all kinds of conflicting weather data, but reality is that there is a 16 knot westerly pushing us toward the finish and we are very happy it is here.

“Today has been a bit of a mix up. Early morning we were gybing around the southern tip of Sweden and we got ourselves a bit close to shore and the Ericssons made a gain on us. In fact, Ericsson 4 passed us there. We got offshore about a half mile behind Ericsson 4 and a mile ahead of Ericsson 3, and the wind picked up a bit into the mid-20s, and Ericsson 4 started to show her stuff. But we hung on and have been within a mile all day.

“Then the wind completely and fairly unexpectedly crapped out for us both: reaching along at 15 knots and bang, on the wind in five knots. Where did that come from? Ericsson 3 watched the whole thing from a couple miles behind and literally sailed around us both. Not a good trend for the il mostro.

“But, in the weirdness we got some leverage (lateral separation) to the west of the Ericsson twins and the wind filled back in from the old direction and we just got around the bow of both of them reaching to the finish.”


Ken Read must be thinking - if it’s not one of them, it’s the other. PUMA was duking it out for the lead with Ericsson 4 all night and all morning, and now they’re duking it out with Ericsson 3. But keep your eye on Torben Grael and the boys, they have taken a position a little bit further to the east – downwind – but they are going north slightly quicker, and we’ll see how that works out for them.

Ian Walker has written from Green Dragon with more information on how the breeze filled in after the light spot at the top of Oland. “The wind has filled in from the north-west favouring the westerly boats as they have got more wind and lifted first. We were furthest west and have now put several miles on Delta Lloyd who were furthest East.

“Telefonica Black are a few hundred metres in front and it now looks like a straight drag race to the finish. Hopefully we have enough to hold on to fifth place as it now looks once again like a stability race. If Telefonica Black make a false move we will be ready to pounce for fourth.”


This one in from Rick Deppe, Media Crew aboard PUMA: “The crew has been making a massive effort and it seems to be paying off. But as I look across at the navigation station, Capey (Andrew Cape, navigator) is either fast asleep or dozing. A few are getting grumpy but, all in all, things are pretty good aboard the boat. There really is no plan at the moment, it’s simply a case of throttle down and head out of the boat, so that we can react to events as they unfold.”

Torbjorn Olsson asked, “When these boats are going upwind, are they really bad, or is it only what it looks like? From land it looks like they all had very big angles and went almost the opposite direction after tacking.”

The boats are offshore racers, Torbjorn, and they aren’t optimized for going directly upwind. So yes, they do sail some wide true wind angles (TWA) upwind, especially in light air. An America’s Cup boat would make mincemeat of them upwind, but then, I’ve sailed a Cup boat downwind in 30 knots and it’s not an experience I’d care to repeat – in contrast, the Volvo Open 70 is in its element in those conditions.


From Guy Salter: “All was going relatively easily until 10:45 GMT this morning when out of the blue (no sign of it on the water) came a huge wind shift. Everyone was in a line on port tack pretty much sailing direct to our waypoint 10 nautical miles from the finish line, and then a big shift and reduction in wind speed came in.

“The shift was about 100 degrees so we found ourselves sailing on the wrong tack - it was one of those shifts where the boys behind should benefit by seeing it coming as it hits the boats in front. For us it was a scramble to get the stack ready and tack the boat - after which followed a sail change to the Code Zero.

“So now rather than being in a line we are sailing on starboard tack with PUMA behind and to windward, and Ericsson 3 to leeward and behind. One scenario we are expecting is for the wind to clock round and back to where it was originally coming from – the north-west. The wind speed is hovering around five knots - so it’s going to get slower and harder now.”

I can confirm that, as per the 14:20 Update, the breeze did indeed come back in from the north-west, everyone is back on port tack and headed to a point where they can turn in towards the finish at Sandham.

The section that Guy is talking about was right off the top of the island Oland. If anyone that has sailed in the area can enlighten us as to the possibility of local effects here, you know the email address by now.

Checking out the changes in position before and after the shift, the big winners were Ericsson 3 who jumped up to the lead pair, dumping their sistership back to third. I think I remember Gustav Morin saying that the Ericsson 3 navigator, Aksel Magdahl, was expecting the wind shift, and as Magdahl is Norwegian there may have been some local knowledge involved in this one.


So that 12 hours went pretty quickly, didn’t it? So did the fleet. They are now burning up the east coast of Sweden, about half-way up the west coast of the island of Gotland. PUMA still holds a narrow lead from Ericsson 3, with Ericsson 4 three miles back, then the group of Telefonica Black, Green Dragon and Delta Lloyd another seven to ten miles behind.

The fleet have the breeze out of the north-west, with everyone enjoying a wind speed in the mid-teens, with the exception of Delta Lloyd - their easterly position seems to have dropped them into less breeze.

Volvo Ocean Race

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