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26 February 2009, 04:22 pm
Volvo Ocean Race Fleet Out Of The Squall Zone
Xabier FERNANDEZ and skipper Bouwe BEKKING onboard Telefonica Blue
Xabier FERNANDEZ and skipper Bouwe BEKKING onboard Telefonica Blue

Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09

The Volvo fleet is rumbling down the track towards Fiji, which is not a mark of the course or a scoring gate, but it is a significant milestone mentally for the five crews racing in this 12,300nm leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, the longest in the 36-year history of the event.
After passing Fiji, there is still approximately 1,000nm to run to the first of two gates, where the first points will be scored.

The island of Fiji is approximately 400nm on the bow, and it will have a huge influence on how the fleet sails in the next two days. The western-most boat in the fleet, fourth-placed Telefónica Blue, is having to sail at the tightest angle since the start of the leg and the yacht feels more constrained than before. ISAF Special Event logo

"The guys above us [to the east] have a slightly better angle to the top of Vanua Levu Island than us, especially the Dragons, so we are holding a breath a bit," said navigator Tom ADDIS (AUS). The team has made a spectacular come-back after starting the leg 19 hours after the rest of the fleet due to contact with a rock just minutes before the start of the leg in Qingdao. Telefónica Blue is now only 36nm behind leaders Ericsson 4.

"We've had a great run in the last 24 hours through some very unstable weather, and have pulled the front runners back by a massive amount, to the stage of almost being in the same patch of water now," says ADDIS.

Competition is very close. PUMA and Ericsson 3 are just 23 and 24nm from Ericsson 4 and both Telefónica Blue and Green Dragon are making some fast runs. Everything is still open for the first scoring gate at 36 degrees south.

The thinking on the ocean is that the teams are out of the worst of the 'squall zone', and the sailing is starting to settle down. Simon FISHER (GBR) onboard Telefónica Blue reported a six-hour morning watch of beautiful, fast upwind sailing in a steady breeze with the Code Zero sail flying. There was sunshine, flat water and not too many clouds in the sky. However, the weather threatened to spoil things for the afternoon watch who were just getting in to the rhythm of sailing round the clouds. It seems unlikely now that fleet will reach the hoped-for complete standstill that the Telefónica Blue crew were counting on, which would have allowed a full restart of the leg and a further opportunity for this team to gain.

Meanwhile, Ericsson 4 has been up close and personal with some wildlife. Rather closer than they would have liked.

"Today we also saw some whales, one of them less than a boat length from us. They are beautiful animals and their size is impressive. But my memories of them are not all nice," wrote Joca SIGNORINI (BRA) who, when sailing onboard Brasil 1 in a qualification for the 2005-06 race actually hit one. He was thrown against the main bulkhead had broke three ribs. "Let's hope we don't get any closer - although beautiful, they are a danger to us as we are to them," he said.

Leading the fleet by just 23nm, Ericsson 4 is reporting flat seas and 12 knots of breeze. The crew are wearing shorts and T-shirts and enjoying beautiful nights filled with lots of stars.

Onboard PUMA, Media Crew Member Rick DEPPE (GBR) was chatting to New Zealander, Rob SALTHOUSE about the night sky:

"I was talking about my new, super-duper infrared see-in-the-dark camera light and Rob was telling me that he missed his kids and wished that he could bring them out here so that they could see how beautiful the night was. We both lamented that the folks at Sony had a long way to go until they could make a camera that would record a night like tonight, but then Rob commented that maybe that is a good thing, because everyone would be out here if they knew what it was like."

With 8,402 miles to run to the finish in Rio, at 13:00 UTC today, the fleet was spread 70nm from first to fifth, but 102nm west/east divide from Telefónica Blue in the west to Green Dragon in the east. The leading trio has remained almost the same distance apart, just a two-mile gain in the 24 hours, but there have been substantial gains for the backmarkers. Telefónica Blue has caught up another 26nm and Green Dragon 18 miles. Telefónica Blue posts the fast 24-hour run of 266nm, while PUMA is currently averaging the highest boat speed of 11.8 knots.

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

Ericsson 4 SWE, Torben GRAEL (BRA) DTF 8,402nm
PUMA Racing Team USA, Ken READ (USA) +23
Ericsson 3 SWE, Magnus OLSSON (SWE) +24
Telefónica Blue ESP, Bouwe BEKKING (NED) +36
Green Dragon IRL/CHI, Ian WALKER (GBR) +70

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

Lizzie Ward (As Amended By ISAF)
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