The breeze is up and the Volvo fleet is rocketing downwind towards a predicted finish in Galway, Ireland early on Sunday morning.
It's the kind of sailing that everyone has been looking forward to and it is almost certainly the last time the boats will have the chance to show off their paces in the open ocean.
"There is something magical that happens out here, miles from anywhere. There is a definite edge to life that you don't get racing in coastal waters,"
said Rick DEPPE (GBR), Media Crew Member onboard second-placed PUMA.
It is smiles all round too on Delta Lloyd, who are in the lead today. "This sailing makes you want to do this race again," said navigator Wouter VERBRAAK (NED). "The sailing conditions are absolutely stunning. Downwind, 25-30 knots, flat water and a red morning sun," he said
But, the old adage goes 'red sky at night - sailor's delight. Red sky in the morning - sailor's warning', and VERBRAAK says the warning signs are already there.
"A thin layer of clouds is steadily approaching and growing thicker. The weather models of modern technology confirm the sailor's rhyme. They are predicting winds to build to 30 knots tonight and more tomorrow," he confirmed.
Ahead of the cold front, the crews are playing the fortunes of the Gulf Stream, which, if in the right place, can give a boat a boost of nearly three knots. Scrutinising satellite images and recording surface temperatures gives a rough guideline as to where to look for the best current, the temperature gauge being the best tool as it shows the transition from colder to warmer water.
"The trick," says VERBRAAK, "is to find a good patch of current and try to stick with it by following its temperature trail." No fun for the navigators, who are constantly monitoring the situation and not able to sleep.
Yesterday afternoon, Telefónica Black (third place today) was neck and neck with Ericsson 4 (fourth place today), running with masthead gennakers. "The guys have just completed a back down right in front of us," wrote a puzzled Ericsson 4 bowman, Phil JAMESON (NZL), as Telefónica Black careered around broaching before eventually the crew sailed the boat backwards.
"Look," shouted Telefónica Black's David VERA (ESP), "there is a big turtle stuck on the leading edge of the keel, unbelievable." One by one, the crew peered through the endoscope to see a three-foot full size ocean turtle trapped on the front side of the keel blade and desperately trying to free itself.
"Fernando ECHÁVARRI was at the helm and doing everything to help free the turtle, swinging the keel from side to side and finally putting the boat into a full broach in the modest 15 knot wind.
No luck, the turtle was still stuck, pressed onto the keel by 13 knots of boat speed. "Let us stop the boat and back off," suggested Fernando ECHÁVARRI (ESP). The crew dropped the spinnaker on the foredeck, put the bows of the boat into the wind and, with the help of a staysail, sailed the boat backwards.
"There it is, just next to the boat," cried VERA. The crew could all see the seemingly unhurt turtle swimming around the surface in gentle circles. "What a ride for the poor animal," wrote navigator Roger NILSON (SWE). "It looked happy and we waved goodbye and hoisted the kite and off we went again. Just another day in the office… who said it is boring to be at sea?"
However, turtle incidents aside, no one is forgetting that this is the North Atlantic and gales here have caused the demise of many a ship. This ocean demands and receives deep respect and the helmsman's current smile masks a worried face as the fleet blasts towards Galway. "Better get some good lunch in and enjoy the sailing on deck before it all takes a turn for the worst," said VERBRAAK. "Keep your helmets ready, it's going to be wet. We are going in!"
Scoring Gate Order
1. Telefónica Blue at 03:11.24 UTC
2. PUMA at 03:12.04 UTC
3. Ericsson 4 at 03:33.05 UTC
4. Ericsson 3 at 04:06.02 UTC
5. Telefónica Black at 04:36.54 UTC
6. Delta Lloyd at 06:16.00 UTC
Leg Seven Day 6: 14:00 UTC Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)
1. Delta Lloyd IRL, Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP) DTL 1186nm
2. PUMA Racing Team USA, Ken READ (USA) +2
3. Telefónica Black ESP, Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP) + 3
4. Telefónica Blue ESP, Bouwe BEKKING (NED) +6
5. Ericsson 4 SWE, Torben GRAEL (BRA) +9
6. Green Dragon IRL/CHN, Ian WALKER (GBR) +36
7. Ericsson 3 SWE, Magnus OLSSON (SWE) +46
Team Russia RUS, Andreas HANAKAMP (AUT) DNS
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard - Provisional
(After Leg Seven Scoring Gate)
1. Ericsson 4, Torben GRAEL (BRA), 84 points
2. Telefónica Blue, Bouwe BEKKING (NED), 72.5 points,
3. PUMA, Ken READ (USA), 69.0 points
4. Ericsson 3, Magnus OLSSON (SWE), 58.0 points
5. Green Dragon, Ian WALKER (GBR), 46.0 points
6. Telefónica Black, Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP), 33.0 points
7. Delta Lloyd, Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP), 25.5 points
8. Team Russia, 10.5 points, DNS
Go here for all the news on the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09
Volvo Ocean Race - www.volvooceanrace.org