It is day 40 of this 12,300 nautical mile jaunt from Qingdao, China to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in the closing stages, the leading boat, Ericsson 3, has opted to play her stealth card. She has gone into hiding and will only reappear 24- hours later, or once she is within 50 nm of the finish in Rio.
This is the first time on this leg that the stealth card, newly introduced for the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race, has been played. Ericsson 3 began her ‘StealthPlay’ to give it its official title, immediately after the 1000 GMT position report this morning and her position in the fleet and all her onboard data will now be secret.
However, at 1000 GMT this morning, the last position report before she ‘disappeared’ from the world’s radar, Ericsson 3 had 194 miles to run to the finish as was parallel with Sao Paulo. She was averaging a double-figure boat speed of 10.5 knots and had achieved a run of 262 nm in the past 24 hours.
Her nearest and deadliest rival, Ericsson 4, with the hugely talented Torben Grael at the helm in what are his home waters, was a safe 103 nm behind her. But, spicing things up in the last hours of the leg, Grael too opted for StealthPlay shortly after today’s 1300 GMT positions were released and now the whereabouts of the man who has five Olympic medals to his name and who knows the waters off Rio like the back of his hand, will be unknown for 24-hours.
At 1300 GMT today, prior to announcing their StealthPlay, Ericsson 4 had 254 nm to run to the finish, with third-placed PUMA a further 86 miles astern.
Yesterday, PUMA’s skipper Ken Read was questioning the motives of the Wind Gods. “Do they really need to play with us like this?” he asked. He answered his own question when he said, “We have a choice. We always have a choice, but now, we really have a choice. We can feel sorry for ourselves and bitch about the weather and the winds and everything else that is preventing us from the ‘all we can eat in Rio’, or we can suck it up and deal with our situation the best we can. Continue to race and continue to do our jobs.”
Read’s crew clearly chose the latter option and Read is very proud of all involved. “Not a single ‘feeling sorry for ourselves’ comment. We continue to race,” he said.
The top four boats, including the beleaguered Green Dragon have all been set free of the high pressure and are making good speeds towards the finish, while Telefónica Blue is the latest victim of the light spot and her speed is nearly half that of the Dragon’s, at 7.5 nm average over the last three hours.
After closing to within 50 nm of Ian Walker and his men yesterday, Bouwe Bekking’s blue boat has now slipped back to 164 nm, as she too now has to fight her way through the high pressure.
“What could have been a case of just counting down the miles to Rio has become for us an exciting duel to the finish,” declared Telefónica Blue’s helmsman Simon Fisher.
As well as keeping Telefónica Blue at bay, Green Dragon has her own issues onboard. Their fuel situation has become critical as the alternator on the generator isn’t working and crew has to use the main engine, which takes more fuel.
“We have calculated we have six days [of fuel] left,” says skipper Ian Walker, who reckons it will take them the full six days to reach Rio.
Ericsson 3 is expected to complete this leg in the early hours of tomorrow morning, followed by Ericsson 4 and PUMA later the same day. Computer routing software is predicting a finish for both Green Dragon and Telefónica Blue on 28 March, but with 450 nm still to run and the possibility of the wind fading, the finishing order for these two is far from a done deal.
Leg Five Day 40: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) STEALTHPLAY
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 254
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +86
Green Dragon IRL/CHI (Ian Walker/GBR) +459
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +623
Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) DNS
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) DNS
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) DNS
Cape Horn Scoring Gate
Ericsson 3: 17.03.09 1222 GMT: 4 points
Ericsson 4: 17.03.09 1448 GMT: 3.5 points
PUMA: 17.03.09 2046 GMT: 3 points
Green Dragon: 18.03.09 0215 GMT 2.5 points
Telefónica Blue: 19.03.09 1339 GMT 2 points
The second high pressure system blocking the route to Rio de Janeiro has come into play for Magnus Olsson’s team today, and slowed them down. Both Ericsson 4 and PUMA have been able to close the gap yet again, with Ericsson 4 now just 86 miles behind. That’s still a healthy margin for the Nordic crew, but certainly less comfortable than what they had just 12 hours ago – Ericsson 4 has gained 40 miles over that span.
From Thomas Johansson – watch captain “Hopefully the last tough night is behind us on leg five. Fighting against a front and staying in it has been on the agenda many times on this leg. You may win a lot of miles by doing so, but if you fall short, the wind will back and you start to lose. This is why again on the night the 19th we had a blast in really mixed up sea state.
But we are human beings, not robots, so we too start to feel tired and we are especially fed up with these fights, due to the fact that it has been, most of the time, tight reaching instead of nice downwind sailing.
You have lots of speed, people are flying around in the cockpit and the constant water hosing makes you crazy. The only thing that keeps you fighting is the commitment to the team and the loyalty to others.
As a team you feel stronger and perform better during the tough times. But for now hopefully we can start to change to shorts and t-shirts. It’s been a long ride so far, all the way from Taiwan. Just waiting to get to Rio and get a couple of beers and meet my wife and the kids. But let’s first fight to the finish.”
From Guy Salter – MCM “From Yesterday started in glorious sunshine but was still rather chilly. As the morning progressed we began to be plagued with thick banks of fog in which the temp really did plummet and in which you just got completely drenched. Then, after an hour, you would suddenly emerge from
the fog back into a lovely sunny and slightly warmer spot.
On the horizon, the dark band of the next fog bank would be visible and yet again you would be shrouded in the low cloud with visibility diminished to a mere two boat lengths at worst.
We also saw a lot of kelp and weed floating yesterday and inevitably it ended up on our submersed appendages, so the ritual of endoscope, board lift and rudder clean became the norm. We even had one back down which didn’t really happen as smoothly as you would see in an America’s Cup pre-start – but it did rid us of the weed, so an overall success.
The big change yesterday, which has probably had the most impact on day to day life happened at 0200 UTC this morning when the breeze built and went aft and at a similar time the sea temp rose by about 7C to 17C. As we sped through the night the sea acted as a radiator and with plenty of water over the deck several layers of thermals have been returned to
the kit bags only for them to see the light of day at a Brazilian launderette.
At present we are running on port in a very sloppy and mixed up seaway in 14kt of wind and we are anticipating a gybe onto starboard with the weather predicting and relatively fast starboard tack into Rio – although I’m sure this will change and allsorts happens when you get
within striking distance of land!
I seem to remember Knut (Knut Frostad Volvo Ocean Race CEO and skipper of Djuice in 2001-02) and his boys in pink on the 2001-02 edition of the race coming from absolutely nowhere and going the inshore route to grab a podium finish into Rio and knock my team down a place.
Poor old Blood (Phil Jameson) has probably been the cleanest person on a Volvo 70 but has also suffered a fair amount from salt water rashes on this leg. I guess it’s due to the fact that he is constantly under water, I’m surprised he isn’t growing gills. His latest episode has made his top lip swell and unfortunately the rest of us can’t help but find it amusing – luckily Blood is as good as receiving as taking the mickey. He does look like he has had Botox (UK readers think Leslie Ash) and his mouth is similar to Homer Simpson’s.
On the other scale, it has been revealed that two individuals have been at the other end of the cleanliness scale revealing that they can count on one hand the amount of times they have cleaned their teeth! I would just warn their partners to bring some wire wool and a power washer as we have all noticed their dragon’s breath and we all haven’t washed properly since the start. I won’t reveal their identity but they are both from the southern hemisphere! The joys of offshore racing!”
From Simon Fisher – Helmsman “With Cape Horn now behind us the focus is clear – get to Rio as quick as possible!! Everyone seems newly invigorated by our return to the Atlantic and spirits seem high.
It is nice that we can finally count down to the finish of this leg now in days, not weeks, or week in singular at least. Things too seem a little more pleasant now we have returned to the Atlantic. From start to finish we have had a beautiful sunny day with barely a cloud in the sky. This evening we were treated to an amazing sunset and the temperature has improved a little as well making life just that little bit easier…
Earlier today we passed close by to the Falklands, to have seen land twice in two days is quite a treat! Nice too to see something British too, even if there was some debate as to whether they should in fact be Argentinean! Needless to say the English speakers sided with the UK and the Spaniards with the Argentina!
Today too saw us make some gains on the guys in front. We managed to close up the gap between us and the Green Dragons by about 100 miles. They are still a long way ahead but to see the deficit come down a little as they battle with high pressure ahead gives us a little glimmer of hope of catching them and also provides us with some fresh motivation to keep pushing ourselves hard. As if wanting to get to Rio after over month at sea wasn’t motivation enough!!”