On Sunday, Telefónica Blue, with Bouwe BEKKING (NED) and his men, emerged from the aftermath of the previous day's drama relatively unscathed, other than breaking their wind instruments, and now has a commanding lead in leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Skipper BEKKING was directing operations on Saturday from his bunk, with an injury to a muscle in his back, and paid tribute to his two watch captains, Jordi CALAFAT (ESP) and South Africa's Jonathan SWAIN.
"They all worked as great team in the last 36 hours. The only thing I could do was be was awake and give my input and advice, which was, above all, 'BOYS, KEEP IT IN ONE PIECE'.
The team registered 55 knots of wind, prior to losing their wind instruments, which, navigator Simon FISHER (GBR) said, meant even looking upwind was nearly impossible with so much spray from the wind. "The sea looked very white and it was very wet on deck," he said.
The team centralized the canting keel, sailed with three reefs in the mainsail and a storm jib set and the rest of the sails were safely stowed below, to ensure that they could sail as slowly as possible, but with enough steerage to avoid big waves. A professional display of good seamanship without a doubt. . "We always new this was going to be a horrible leg," BEKKING said.
BEKKING added that being stuck down below in his bunk was the best way to feel how big the crashes were. He could tell who was steering and when the boat was about to launch off a wave.
On Saturday night they started to crash the boat too hard, so the team invested some of their lead to sail away from the finish on a better angle to the waves, but now they are back up to full race mode and BEKKING is able to move around the boat.
Telefónica Blue has now safely crossed the Luzon Strait and is just under 700 miles from the finish of the leg in Qingdao. Magnus OLSSON (SWE) and his crew on Ericsson 3 are 56 miles back, just ahead of sistership and overall race leader Ericsson 4 skippered by five-time Olympic medallist Torben GRAEL (BRA).
Elsewhere in the fleet, the three damaged boats are making progress, but Telefónica Black with skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP) has had to retire. The boat has a crack in the hull, which is of some concern, and the team is heading towards Manila where they will rendezvous with their shore crew and design team, to assess what needs to be done to get the boat back in shape and ready for the in-port race in Qingdao on 7 February.
Green Dragon, PUMA and Delta Lloyd have all resumed racing, but are now many miles behind Telefónica Blue. PUMA has just started out across the Strait, while the others still have some way to go in the lee of Luzon Island. Green Dragon suffered more structural damage after leaving their anchorage yesterday as skipper Ian WALKER explained:
"Since leaving harbour, things have not gone so well for us. We proceeded very carefully into a wicked head sea and it wasn't long before Neal [Neal MCDONALD (GBR)] and I heard two dreaded cracks. We were inspecting the bow repair at the time and while the repair held firm, the bulkhead let go either side of it.
"Since then I have been agonising over how best to proceed. Do we go to Hong Kong, Xiamen or even Shanghai to make repairs? Do we go back to Subic Bay? Is it safe to cross the Straits in the current weather? Should we soldier on slowly and nurse the boat to Qingdao - maybe even get there without retiring and using the engine?
"Right now, we are doing just that, but more damage could rapidly change things. We are currently sailing in 37 knots with storm jib and trysail (it is very hard to nurse your boat in 30+ knots!). If we get through the next 12 hours intact, conditions should very much improve for a couple of days before another 'cold push' (gales from the North) will pass over us. This will be hard for us to deal with as it will be bang on the nose.
"As always my crew have been fantastic. Everyone is fully focused on getting the Green Dragon to Qingdao. There is nothing we want more right now than to sail into Qingdao, however long it takes us. We have no more repair materials onboard, so we must prevent any further damage in order to do this," WALKER said.
Delta Lloyd got going rather quicker than they intended. On Saturday, they ended up in the Bay of Salomague, which was nicely secluded. The first thing the crew did was to rest, and, during the night, Green Dragon pulled in to the same bay.
After sunrise, they tackled their repair list. Mending the mainsail was by far the biggest job, but David PELLA (ESP) also fixed the steering wheel, which had broken on the outer ring. The rest of the crew cleaned up the boat.
"Our goal was to set sail at 18:00 hours local time, but, after seeing Green Dragon weighing anchor, the work speed increased even more and we managed to raise anchor at 17:10 local time," said navigator Frits KOEK (NED).
Ken READ (USA), whose red and black PUMA, snapped her boom in two yesterday, described the conditions yesterday as worst than those found in the notorious Bass Strait. "This is the nastiest place on earth he said."
For Telefónica Blue, the air temperatures are steadily dropping although the warm current is keeping the sea temperature up. They are anticipating crossing the finish in Qingdao late on the 28 January/early 29 January. The stopover in Qingdao will be hard for the teams because it will be short and cold and, as well as an in-port race, they have a big leg ahead of them to prepare for. Leg five is the longest leg in the history of the race; 12,300nm to Rio de Janeiro.
Leg Four Day 9: 10:00 UTC Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)
1. Telefónica Blue ESP, Bouwe BEKKING (NED) DTF 679nm
2. Ericsson 3 SWE, Magnus OLSSON (SWE) +56
3. Ericsson 4 SWE, Torben GRAEL (BRA) +65
4. PUMA Racing Team USA, Ken READ (USA) +134
5. Delta Lloyd IRL, Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP) +221
6. Green Dragon IRL/CHN, Ian WALKER (GBR) +271
7. Telefónica Black ESP, Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP) RTD
8. Team Russia RUS, Andreas HANAKAMP (AUT) DNS
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard
(After Singapore In-Port Race)
1. Ericsson 4, skipper Torben GRAEL (BRA), 39 points
2.Telefónica Blue, skipper Bouwe BEKKING (NED), 33.5 points
3. PUMA, skipper Ken READ (USA), 31 points
4. Ericsson 3, skipper Magnus OLSSON (SWE), 24 points
5. Green Dragon, skipper Ian WALKER (GBR), 22.5 points
6. Telefónica Black, skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP), 19 points
7. Team Russia, skipper Andreas HANAKAMP (AUT), 10.5 points
8. Delta Lloyd, skipper Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP), 10 points
Go here for all the news on the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09
Volvo Ocean Race - www.volvooceanrace.org