Sunday, 14 June 2009

VOR: Swedish Sprint for Leg 9 of the Volvo Ocean Race

The fleet arrive in Marstrand at the end of leg 8. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Sophie Luther

The sun returned to Marstrand Saturday as the skippers sat down to discuss the forthcoming Leg 9, the short Swedish sprint down to Sandhamn off the coast of Stockholm. The leg measures just 525 nautical miles, but as it winds down the coast of Sweden, it promises to offer up numerous challenges to the fleet.

Ericsson 4, who sit atop the overall leaderboard, are strongly positioned to win the Volvo Ocean Race on this leg. Skipper Torben Grael and his team have a 15 point margin over PUMA, with just 20 points available to any team that runs the table the rest of the way. Grael says although they're happy with their position, it's not quite over yet.

"It is a good position where we are, there's no doubt about it, but we still have to keep racing the boat to Stockholm," he said. "It's a nice leg for us, being a Swedish team, and we're all looking forward to getting there."

Behind him, the tightest battle on the leaderboard is between PUMA and Telefonica Blue for second place. PUMA skipper Ken Read has used two consecutive second place leg finishes to overhaul his rival Bouwe Bekking on the Blue boat and he now holds a tenuous, one-point grip on second place. This fight seems destined to run down to the finish line off St. Petersburg.

The two can afford to focus upon each other now. Ericsson 3, in fourth place, is too far behind to catch them. So with guaranteed spots on the podium, the fight is for second place.

"We're in this race to win," said PUMA skipper Ken Read. "But you're in a race like this to win every individual battle, and we've got a good battle now with Telefonica Blue. We're fighting against possibly the best boat (Telefonica Blue) in the conditions we're likely to be sailing in... Second place is a big deal for us. The podium was always the goal for a single boat, start-up programme like PUMA. It kills me to say this, but second place would be a hell of a result and something to be very proud of."

It won't be easy. Telefonica Blue is renowned for its pace in lighter conditions and flat water. "It's more than possible that we're both sixth and seventh in the next two legs, but I think you still have to try to sail your own race," said Telefonica Blue skipper Bouwe Bekking, when asked if he thought they'd be match racing PUMA. "If you can build up a little buffer of a couple of miles, it gets easier. Winning (the leg) is nice, but it's not a priority right now. We're looking for second place."

Behind the top three, other rivalries are building as the leaderboard gets tighter. Green Dragon has posted two consecutive podium finishes to draw within 5.5 points of Ericsson 3. Similarly, Delta Lloyd is trying to reel in Telefonica Black, with the Spanish boat 7 points ahead of the Dutch entry.

The forecast is for moderate conditions at the start of the leg, with the winds likely to ease as the leg progresses.

Volvo Ocean Race

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