In a thrilling finish to leg eight of the Volvo Ocean Race from Galway to Marstrand, Sweden, Ericsson 4 pulled out all the stops to take a third leg win in a row.
PUMA finished second and, after a heroic effort from the crew, Green Dragon clung on to third place, to complete the same order of finish as for leg seven.
Although Ericsson 4's overall lead now seems unassailable (102 points overall), with just two legs to go until the finish of the race in St Petersburg later this month, the battle for second place has intensified. Bouwe BEKKING
's (NED) fourth place on this leg has caused the Telefónica Blue team to lose their second place overall to PUMA (87 points overall) and they now trail by one point.
However, at the head of the field and after five days of relentless racing, Ericsson 4 made her way to the front on day four, arriving at the Rotterdam Gate in first place. Positions swapped regularly as the fleet toughed out typical North Sea conditions, and it was by no means certain that Ericsson 4's lead was a given thing.
On arrival in Marstrand this morning, Brazilian skipper Torben GRAEL
was very matter of fact about his team's victory and prospects of an overall win. "It was a very important result, a very close race. Green Dragon was sailing really well and they had an excellent leg. They went to the front and just stayed there.
"We wanted to have a good result. This is a nice step towards the main goal. I have to thank this wonderful group because it was a tough leg, a difficult race and even though it was hard, people were in a good mood on board. We're very close to winning the race, but we're not there yet,"
Piling on the pressure right from the start in Galway when they led the fleet round the Fastnet Rock off the southwestern tip of Ireland, Ian WALKER
(GBR) and his crew on Green Dragon sailed a fantastic leg. Fighting off Telefónica Black by daring to go through the notorious Alderney Race, their final relegation to third position in the closing stages of this leg was, perhaps, undeserved.
Skipper WALKER said, "We sailed pretty much a perfect leg, so there's no point in being upset. They [PUMA] just did one perfect sched where they did something like 36 miles dead upwind. I don't know how they did it to be honest. Until then, they were down and out. We were torn between going over to cover them and trying to sail our own race. If it was going to be a reach to the finish, they're about 10 per cent quicker so we figured we'd need about seven miles. We got back about five miles ahead of them, and it wasn't quite enough."
The crew of PUMA, after wrecking their biggest spinnaker, had a difficult time to keep the morale onboard positive. With their best sail in pieces, the crew had no choice but to cross the low pressure by sailing northwest for a while. A move that certainly paid off when the team came steaming in like an express train from the north and snatched second place from the claws of the Dragon.
"My hat is off for PUMA's brave move, which was very close to making them win this race,"
said Telefónica Black's navigator Roger NILSON (SWE), who after leading for a while finished in sixth place and witnessed PUMA blowing out their sail earlier in the leg.
In his last email from the boat before crossing the finish, PUMA's skipper, Ken READ
(USA) said, "We were wondering how we got into the mess we were in, and we had to split from the fleet, certainly not something we wished to do. But, we had a plan B and were going to execute it come hell or high water. Next came the gale. Forty knots upwind again, while reading the reports of the fleet having a lovely sail to Sweden. This was the price we had to pay to get to the northerlies that would eventually catapult us back into the game."
On reaching the dock in Marstrand, READ was ecstatic, "The 'no-quit' in this team is beyond imagination. We had every reason to quit and I think we're kind of stunned to be honest. Twenty-four hours ago, we were sailing with a triple reef and a number four upwind in a gale, while the other guys were running down the coast. I give Andrew CAPE a lot of credit. We got ourselves in a tough spot and he got us out of it. He could have said 'let's just follow them in' and he didn't. He deserves a ton of credit.
"I almost feel bad for Green Dragon. They sailed a great race. That's their best effort yet. We had a little pace on them in reaching conditions and we just pipped them,"
The Volvo fleet is now safely moored in Marstrand. Finishing further down the order were Telefónica Blue, skipper fourth), who now slips to third place overall, Delta Lloyd who stole points on the finish line for fifth place from one-time leg leader Telefónica Black, and Ericsson 3 who finished in seventh.
The stop in Marstrand is brief, and, as a 'pit-stop', any repairs that need to be carried out to the boats will have to be done by the already exhausted crews themselves as shore crew assistance in a pit-stop is against the rules. The fleet leaves Marstrand for Stockholm on Sunday 14 June.
Leg Eight Finishing Order Marstrand
1. Ericsson 4
3. Green Dragon
4. Telefónica Blue
5. Delta Lloyd
6. Telefónica Black
7. Ericsson 3
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard
(After Leg Eight)
1. Ericsson 4, skipper Torben GRAEL (BRA), 102 points
2. PUMA, skipper Ken READ (USA), 87.0 points
3. Telefónica Blue, skipper Bouwe BEKKING (NED), 86.0 points
4. Ericsson 3, skipper Magnus OLSSON (SWE), 64.5 points
5. Green Dragon, skipper Ian WALKER (GBR), 59.0 points
6. Telefónica Black, skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI (ESP), 42.0
7. Delta Lloyd, skipper Roberto BERMUDEZ (ESP), 35.0 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