The last day in paradise is nearing its end for the seven crews racing in leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race and hell is approaching in form of gale force winds.
The storms appear perfectly timed to wipe over the fleet just as it pops out from the shelter of Luzon Island, and into the Luzon Strait, the 250nm stretch of water that lies between the northern tip of the Philippine island Luzon and the southern tip of Taiwan.
According to Bouwe BEKKING
(NED), skipper of Telefónica Blue in third place, the upcoming storm could decide the outcome of the race. "We are just enjoying the last day in paradise and then we go to hell,"
he said in a radio interview. "The real race will start when the big breeze comes in and then it will be very hard on us. It will difficult to sleep, as the boat will be very noisy down below. There will be big bangs as the boat falls off the waves and of course, we always have the fear of breaking something. Then the stress levels will go up."
As the fleet converged on the South Rock Light, earlier this morning, it was skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI
(ESP) and Telefónica Black team who streaked in from the left hand flank and stole the lead. PUMA, with skippered Ken READ
(USA) and Telefónica Blue were next round, approaching from the centre of the fleet, while also from the outside flank, Ian WALKER
(GBR) and his crew on Green Dragon were able to stay in touch after losing the forestay on their VO70 yesterday. Way over to the right and closest to the shore of Luzon Island was overall race leader Ericsson 4, who just slipped ahead of teammate Ericsson 3 passing the mark 40 minutes ahead. This mark of the course is not a scoring gate, therefore no points are awarded, but it does provide an accurate gauge of the progress of the fleet.
The fleet is currently tacking up the shore of Luzon Island. The wind speed is around 23-25 knots and sea is beginning to be lumpy. Dave ENDEAN (NZL), pitman on seventh placed Ericsson 4 gave a radio update this morning saying that the crew had just shortened sail, putting the first reef in the mainsail and changing to a smaller headsail as the boat was starting to slam harder in the current that flows against the wind. He said the crew was planning for the worst and expecting the worst.
"Getting the boat through the storm so we can keep pushing on afterwards is our main concern,"
ENDEAN said. He explained that the crew would continue to reduce sail area to control the speed of the boat where necessary. Landing too fast off large waves is when serious damage is done, and it is up to the helmsman to nurse the boat over the waves and try to aim for a soft landing. He says they are planning for the helmsman to steer for two hours at a time. The rotation will be reduced to an hour when it gets colder as the helmsman's position on the steering platform is very exposed and the wind chill factor will be then become a problem.
Ericsson 4 is currently the overall race leader, but this the team's worst performance in the race so far. "We are not happy about being last, but we are here now and have to deal with it,"
said ENDEAN. However, the team is confident that they can out perform the rest of the fleet in the weather that is to come. "Ahead we have two days of pretty hard work upwind, we've done a lot of that and if there is any boat I'd want to be on, it would be this one,"
There has been torture of a different kind onboard Ericsson 3 when skipper Magnus OLSSON (SWE) got his thumb stuck in the runner block. Media Crew Member Gustav MORIN (SWE) said, "He did not scream, but, in a very thin voice, he asked someone to grind the runner back on again so he could get his finger out."
He was very lucky to get away with some loss of blood, swelling and a broken nail, when, just as easily, he could have lost the top of his finger or worse. Richard MASON (NZL), the 'doctor' onboard analysed the injury immediately and, after some consultation with the Ericsson team doctor by telephone, followed by an exchange of images, concluded that the nail should be removed.
"Magnus was trying to get away, but 'Dr Mason' forced him down in a bunk to pull the nail out. Martin KRIT [(SWE)] was nursing and supported by injecting painkiller into Magnus' thumb, quite a tricky manoeuvre in the wavy conditions. But everything went smoothly and, after Mason sacrificed the nail to King Neptune, we are hoping for some luck to bring us up to the top squad again,"
Onboard PUMA, in second place, skipper READ draws solace in the fact that his crew contains so many experienced ocean sailors. "We have talked through many different scenarios, and there wasn't much that we could bring up that someone on the team didn't say, 'oh yeah, when I was on so and so in the 1994 such and such race,'… you get my drift."
The rooky navigator Frits KOEK (NED) of fourth-placed Delta Lloyd reported damage to their forestay cover during a headsail change. "The crew was able to cut loose part of the cover and we had to drop the foresail to do that,"
he said. KOEK says his team is aiming for the lower waves nearer the shore of Luzon Island. They too have shortened sail are reporting two to three metre waves.
Meanwhile, onboard Green Dragon, WALKER and his men are relieved that their mast was not lost when their forestay broke yesterday, but they are disappointed with their position as they slowly slip back through the fleet from their secure fourth place.
"We should be grateful we are not heading to Manila under engine,"
wrote skipper WALKER this morning. Their luck could be about to change as the rest of the fleet shortens sail as conditions worsen. The Dragons are only able to fly their J4 headsail, but that is now the right sail for the conditions and the sail which is being used by the rest of the fleet.
By around 07:00 UTC tomorrow, the fleet will nose out into the Luzon Strait and face 30+ knots of wind, however the north northeasterly wind direction will mean that fleet can crack off slightly, making the transition of the Strait a relatively quick affair.
The Luzon Strait is 200 nautical miles long and stretches between the northern tip of Luzon Island and the southern tip of Taiwan. Dotted in the path of the fleet are two groups of islands, the Batanes Islands and the Babuyan Islands, between which the fleet must pass.
South Rock Light Rounding Order and Times UTC
1. Telefónica Black 03:00
2. PUMA 03:30
3. Telefónica Blue 04:20
4. Delta Lloyd 06:05
5. Green Dragon 07:25
6. Ericsson 4 07:30
7. Ericsson 3 08:10
Leg Four Day 6: 13:00 UTC Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)
1. Telefónica Black ESP, Fernando ECHAVARRI
(ESP) DTF 1229 nm
2. PUMA Racing Team USA, Ken READ
3. Telefónica Blue ESP, Bouwe BEKKING
4. Delta Lloyd IRL, Roberto BERMUDEZ
5. Ericsson 3 SWE, Magnus OLSSON (SWE) +37
6. Ericsson 4 SWE, Torben GRAEL
7. Green Dragon IRL/CHN, Ian WALKER
8. Team Russia RUS, Andreas HANAKAMP
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