US skipper Ken READ and his crew hold a narrow 4nm lead over Ericsson 4 and incredibly, after 5,000nm of racing, only 39nm separate them from Green Dragon who bring up the rear of the fleet in fifth. With points up for grabs as the fleet close in on the first scoring waypoint one, the tension is starting to build onboard.
"It can be extremely frustrating at times. Different clouds can turn your day from an okay one to and absolute disaster. We spent 11 days building a 55 mile lead early on, and lost 40 of that in three scheds!!" explained Ericsson 4 bowman Phil JAMESON (NZL).
"Anyway, here we are, halfway between Fiji and the top of New Zealand in 'the race of the century', fighting for every inch heading toward the scoring gate at 36 south. It's gonna be impossible to predict the outcome. I'm sure there will be hearts broken one way or another," he added.
Unfortunately for the many New Zealanders amongst the crews, there will be no stop in New Zealand for the Volvo Ocean Race this time. Skipper Ian WALKER (GBR) has hidden the passports onboard Green Dragon in case his two, Andrew MCCLEAN and Chris MAIN, make a swim for it.
"There was already some talk of swimming ashore as we sailed through the islands off the eastern tip of Fiji, so we will have to stay out of swimming range of the New Zealand coast," he said.
Throughout the fleet, everyone onboard is happy and relaxed as the breeze has settled and the boats are rolling along on an endless port tack at around 14 knots.
Two crew are particularly happy: Magnus OLSSON (SWE), skipper of Ericsson 3, is happy because he is a coffee addict. All the food bags onboard his boat seemed to contain just pre-packed cappuccinos and small bags with ready mixed coffee and OLSSON wanted the 'real stuff', with no sugar or anything else added. For days, media crew member (MCM) Gustav MORIN (SWE) rummaged through almost half their food bags, but no real coffee. After 15 days at sea, 18 for most of the crew, OLSSON had got used to it, but on Saturday, when MORIN opened a bag he hadn't looked in before, there it was. OLSSON celebrated. The other happy skipper is WALKER, for almost the same reason, except that he wanted powered milk so he could have a nice cup of tea, and this, at last, has come to light.
But, onboard PUMA, MCM Rick DEPPE (GBR), is not happy. In fact, he's pretty grumpy, having been wakened from his nice sleeping place on a beanbag in a cool corner at the back of the boat, when the wind went light and the crew needed to move the weight forward. DEPPE declined the offer of sleeping on a wet sail forward of the mast next to the rubbish bags and instead thought a cup of tea would be just the thing.
"I head off to the galley only to discover that we are out of tea bags for the next couple of days. In theory, I am the only tea drinker on the boat and I am allocated three bags per day. The problem is that other people tend to become tea drinkers the moment they step on board," he said. He settled for coffee on deck and, at 03:10, he was cheered up by the beauty of the night. "The wind was blowing around nine knots and the sea was perfectly flat, subsequently no splashing at all - a very rare occurrence on a Volvo 70. This fact alone was enough to cheer me up. The coffee was warm and tasted great and I had had a brilliant 45 minutes up on the foredeck, and no-one even knew I was there."
Onboard Telefónica Blue, the team has been celebrating navigator Tom ADDIS' (AUS) 39th birthday with a small bottle of wine and some macadamia nuts. "A small sip of wine was a treat to the palette after water-maker water for so many days for sure," said helmsman Simon FISHER (GBR).
The theme of food continues to Ericsson 4, where the crew has been amusing themselves with a 'pea-throwing' competition. "We have an abundance of what we thought were wasabi coated peas, but something was lost in our Chinese and we ended up with peas covered in an unknown and flavourless coating," explains Ryan GODFREY (AUS). The crew is now seeing who can throw a pea and get it through the 30nm mainsail clew ring from a distance of four metres. "It is harder than it sounds as the apparent wind has to be taken into consideration," says GODFREY. So far, only one pea has made it through the ring, thrown by Brad JACKSON (NZL). "There is some doubt if it went through as he claims it did," GODFREY added.
Onboard Ericsson 3, the crew is preparing for the Southern Ocean and being more vigilant with their eating, sleeping and adhering to the watch system properly. "We can't afford the guys to be burned out and sick after the first part of the leg and not be 100 per cent when we reach the Southern Ocean," says MORIN. The team believes they will put in a strong performance in the Southern Ocean, provided they stay in shape.
The flat water and medium wind speeds, with few sail changes, is allowing the crews to sleep well on their off watch and recharge their batteries in preparation for what is ahead. "We may have done 5,000 nm, but this leg has hardly started," said WALKER.
Leg Five Day 17: 10:00 UTC Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)
PUMA Racing Team USA, Ken READ (USA) DTF 7,610 nm
Ericsson 4 SWE, Torben GRAEL (BRA) +4
Ericsson 3 SWE, Magnus OLSSON (SWE) +10
Telefónica Blue ESP, Bouwe BEKKING (NED) +29
Green Dragon IRL/CHI, Ian WALKER (GBR) +39
Delta Lloyd IRL, Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP) DNS
Telefónica Black ESP, Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP) DNS
Team Russia RUS, Andreas HANAKAMP (AUT) DNS
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard
1. Ericsson 4, skipper Torben GRAEL (BRA), 49 points
2. Telefónica Blue, skipper Bouwe BEKKING (NED), 42 points
3. PUMA, skipper Ken READ (USA), 41 points
4. Green Dragon, skipper Ian WALKER (GBR), 30 points
5. Ericsson 3, skipper Magnus OLSSON (SWE), 24 points
6. Telefónica Black, skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP), 21 points
7. Delta Lloyd, skipper Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP), 12 points
8. Team Russia, skipper Andreas HANAKAMP (AUT), 10.5 points
Go here for all the news on the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09
Volvo Ocean Race - www.volvooceanrace.org