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27 February 2009, 04:21 pm
Weather And Wind Angles Force Tactical Decisions In Volvo Fleet
Onboard PUMA Ocean Racing
Onboard PUMA Ocean Racing, who lead leg five

Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09

The islands of Fiji are in the way and causing some head-scratching for the navigators in leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race as they try to decide will be the most favourable way to negotiate a course around the two islands, which lie 40nm ahead and right in their path.
During the past week, the fleet has been clawing as much easting as possible, but now it seems it may not have been quite enough, at least for the majority of the fleet.

Green Dragon has been committed to the east for over a week, which, up to now, has paid big dividends and if this team has to tack to clear Fiji, it will be for less time than any others who choose this route. ISAF Special Event logo

"Who would have thought that Fiji would have such a big part to play in determining the strategy in leg five? I didn't even know exactly where Fiji was when we left China two weeks ago! Now I am cross examining every member of the crew who has ever been there on holiday, trying to find out the nature of the island the possible local effects of the wind," says skipper Ian WALKER (IRL).

Ericsson 4 is currently still heading straight for Vanua Levu, the eastern and smaller of the two islands, while PUMA was the first boat in the fleet to peel off with certainty to the west after skipper Ken READ (USA) had much discussion with Australian navigator, Andrew CAPE. "A bit of precarious weather around the island will make for a huge gain or loss depending if you guess right for the short or long term," says READ. "Capey has been wracking his brain overtime, trying to figure this one out. As always, I sit there and throw as many questions at him as possible to try and get all the options on the table."

According to Ericsson 3's navigator, Aksel MAGDAHL (NOR), the weather models do not favour the west at all, showing huge zones of no wind there, over in the next couple of days. But MAGDAHL also adds that he doesn't expect the weather models to be accurate in this area. "A cluster of clouds can quickly make a boat hero to zero," he says.

Weather and wind angles aside, many of the crew of leading boat Ericsson 4 have very fond memories of Fiji and they are sure that such positive memories will ensure the islands are 'nice' to them. Watch captain, Brad JACKSON (NZL), was married on Fiji, so that should keep them in good stead. Joking aside, media crew member Guy SALTER (GBR) says the team has no reason to change their game plan and go west or even straight between the two islands. They will pass to the east - hopefully!

But, for Ericsson 3, the dilemma is unsolved. "Now we have to a choose side, very late. If we want to be east, we will have to beat upwind for many hours in light breeze, which will be very expensive. So, take a probable big loss by going west, but with a chance to sneak through without too much pain? Or, invest even more in the east and take a certain short term loss of maybe 12 hours, to stay in an area where the probability for more consistent breeze is higher than in the west," questions navigator MAGDAHL.

MAGDAHL has discounted the option of going between the islands because of the team's experience with the uncharted Spratly Islands on leg four.

"It is déjà-vu with the 'Dangerous Ground' from the last leg really, with a big unsurveyed area. There are still charts though, but we don't trust them, so we will try to stay away from there," he says.

Not so for Bouwe BEKKING (NED). The Dutch skipper of Telefónica Blue looks set to take his team straight through the gap between the two islands, which, at its narrowest point is only 2.5nm wide, expanding to about 40nm at its widest point.

The recent decision-making in the fleet has led to a temporary shake up on the leaderboard. PUMA moves into first place, and Telefónica Blue takes up second position, pushing Ericson 4 back to third and Ericsson 3 into fourth place.

The fleet is currently hard on the wind, with about 12 knots of wind speed, making for painfully show mileage. Everyone is hoping that the wind Gods will smile soon and free the fleet up. But, for now, it is decision time, and many think the leg could be won or lost at this point.

Leg Five Day 14: 13:00 UTC Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

PUMA Racing Team USA, Ken READ (USA) DTF 8,364
Telefónica Blue ESP, Bouwe BEKKING (NED) +18
Ericsson 4 SWE, Torben GRAEL (BRA) +20
Ericsson 3 SWE, Magnus OLSSON (SWE) +41
Green Dragon IRL/CHI, Ian WALKER (GBR) +78

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 -

Lizzie Ward (As Amended By ISAF)
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