Telefónica Blue skipper Bouwe BEKKING has played his stealth card as their closest rivals Ericsson closed the gap at the front of the leg six of the Volvo Ocean Race to single figures.
What else could Telefónica Blue do? At 07:00 UTC this morning, Ericsson had inched to within six miles of the blue boat and skipper Bouwe BEKKING
(NED) was faced with an important tactical decision.
Now running hard downwind, the wind direction had called for a gybe, and BEKKING's dilemma was when, exactly, should he carry out the manoeuvre? He took the only decision he could and played his stealth card, keeping secret, at least for 12 hours, the moment he made his move. Telefónica Blue's position will be revealed on the 19:00 UTC position report tonight.
"A very tricky call has to be made. You gybe too early and you run out of pressure, you gybe too late and you end up with a bad angle to the whale exclusion box, as the breeze will come rapidly forward until we are hard on the wind. That will be the race call,"
BEKKING explained yesterday.
In a radio interview today, Roger NILSON (SWE), navigator of sistership Telefónica Black commented that he believes Telefónica Blue is struggling with boatspeed against Ericsson 4 and can't defend themselves.
The route to Boston for the fleet is complicated, not only by the approaching cold front, but also by the risk of collision with one of the world's most critically endangered whales, the North Atlantic right whale, of which there are less than 400 individuals left.
Right whales are a slow moving whale, often travelling just below the surface, a behaviour that has left them particularly vulnerable to the increasing levels of vessel traffic along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a region off the Boston coastline, is a critical feeding area for a number of large whale species including the North Atlantic right whale and an exclusion zone has been put in place by the race organisers to keep the fleet away from the area.
Meanwhile, as the rest of the fleet prepared for some cold, windy weather, at 10:00 UTC, Torben GRAEL
(BRA) too reached for his Stealth card and Ericsson 4's position will remain unknown until 22:00 UTC tonight. For Ericsson 3, who has been constantly keeping pace with Ericsson 4, it is disappointment.
"We have gone from rookies in this race to actually winning the longest leg in its history. Of course, we are still very humble, and of course we know that we have a lot more to learn, but once you have done well you want to do it again and again and when the results don't come, times get tougher,"
wrote Ericsson 3's Media Crew Member Gustav MORIN (SWE) today.
Yesterday, Ericsson 4 managed to slip away by a few miles. "We couldn't do much other than checking everything was OK with the boat and just struggle on,"
MORIN said. "It's pretty frustrating when you have had the same speed for days and then, suddenly, one boat starts to go a touch faster,"
The crew on PUMA are also licking their wounds. "A few days back I was 'complaining' about being next to the two Ericsson boats all the time. Well, I should have known better. Be careful what you wish for, as they utilised their western position and buzzed off and put a pretty good licking on us over the last 48 hours,"
said skipper Ken READ
However, onboard Delta Lloyd, there has been no lack of boatspeed and navigator Wouter VERBRAAK (NED) reports great sailing in 20-24 knots of wind. "Our close battle with Telefónica Black continues, which is a real motivator as well,"
he said, explaining that Telefónica Black had opted for a more risky westerly route and did well yesterday morning, but now they are in less wind and it is Delta Lloyd's turn again.
For Green Dragon, at the back of the fleet, the crew is just wishing for an extra 1000kgs of lead in their keel bulb to help their performance. "Anything we do well produces a sched [position report] with, at best, no loss, and any small mistakes or misfortunes are punished hard,"
said navigator Ian MOORE (IRL).
Conditions are downwind at a steady 20 knots as the teams prepare for the final last battle of leg six of the Volvo Ocean Race. The cold front will give the fleet strong winds and tough conditions. "We will have to make sure we nurse the boat through that,"
said VERBRAAK alluding to the old adage, "To finish first, you have to finish."
Scoring Gate Results - Fernando de Noronha
1. Telefónica Blue, 19:58:56 UTC 16.04.09, 4 points
2. Ericsson 4, 22:55:36 UTC 16.04.09, 3.5 points
3. Delta Lloyd, 23:28:32 UTC 16.04.09, 3 points
4. Puma, 23:29:31 UTC 16.04.09, 2.5 Points
5. Telefónica Black, 23:42:20 UTC 16.04.09, 2 points
6. Ericsson 3, 00:14:28 UTC 17.04.09, 1.5 points
7. Green Dragon, 01:27:26 UTC 17.04.09, 1 point
Leg Six Day 13: 13:00 UTC Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)
Telefónica Blue ESP, Bouwe BEKKING
(NED) STEALTH PLAY
Ericsson 4 SWE, Torben GRAEL
(BRA) STEALTH PLAY
Ericsson 3 SWE, Magnus OLSSON (SWE) DTF 841
PUMA Racing Team USA, Ken READ
(USA) +15 nm
Telefónica Black ESP, Fernando ECHAVARRI
Delta Lloyd IRL, Roberto BERMUDEZ
(ESP) +78 nm
Green Dragon IRL/CHN, Ian WALKER
(GBR) +131 nm
Team Russia RUS, Andreas HANAKAMP
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard
(After Leg Six Scoring Gate)
1. Ericsson 4, skipper Torben GRAEL
(BRA), 69.5 points
2. PUMA, skipper Ken READ
(USA), 59 points
3. Telefónica Blue, skipper Bouwe BEKKING
(NED), 58.5 points
4. Ericsson 3, skipper Magnus OLSSON (SWE), 46 points
5. Green Dragon, skipper Ian WALKER
(GBR), 42 points
6. Telefónica Black, skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI
(ESP), 25 points
7. Delta Lloyd, skipper Roberto BERMUDEZ
(ESP), 18 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