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14 June 2009, 06:24 pm
Telefónica Blue Hits Rock While Leading Volvo Fleet At Start To Leg Nine
Telefonica Blue run aground the start of leg nine
Telefonica Blue run aground the start of leg nine

Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09
Galway, Ireland

Drama today in Marstrand as Telefónica Blue became wedged on a rock and suspended racing at 12:31 UTC while leading the fleet at the start of leg nine to Stockholm.
The boat hit the rock while racing at around 14 knots of boatspeed and is hard aground in one-metre swells. The team immediately dropped the sails, but the boat's keel is firmly wedged within the rocks whilst the rest of the fleet is sailing away. A pilot boat and the coastguards are standing by and attempting to tow the boat clear. All the crew are unhurt.
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Telefónica Blue was first across the start line, but PUMA quickly established a lead of around 10 boat lengths and skipper Ken READ (USA) tacked a few metres away from the rocks, where the spectators enjoyed a grandstand view.

Ian WALKER (GBR) took Green Dragon in to a very light patch of breeze immediately after the start and the crew unfurled their enormous code zero fleet as they headed towards the spectator fleet on the right hand side of the course.

Out on the left, PUMA and Delta Lloyd had plenty of wind and for the first 20 minutes of this inshore lap, the left side of the course continued to pay very well, but the breeze was dying all the way across the racecourse.

A big lumpy swell made it difficult for the teams drive the boats in just five to six knots of wind and it was painful to watch as the boats came to a shuddering halt on every wave. The new breeze, when it came, filled in on the right hand side of the course and Green Dragon with the luck of the Irish, and had the first taster of the eight or nine knots of breeze, giving them the advantage in the approach to the first turning mark.

They took the lead followed one boat length behind by Telefónica Blue. PUMA and Ericsson 3 made up the top four, while Telefónica Black, Delta Lloyd and, unusually, Torben GRAEL (BRA) and Ericsson 4 were the second string.

Racing downwind, the top three boats hoisted spinnakers, while the chasing pack stayed with their massive code zero headsails. Enthusiastic race goers invaded the racecourse and PUMA sailed downwind escorted by a big spectator fleet.

By the time the leading four had reached the final turning mark, the order had changed again and there was action and drama aplenty. Green Dragon had stayed out to the left of the course, nearest the spectator fleet, but the wind filled in from the right, causing them to lose their lead and allowing Telefónica Blue, Ericsson 3 and PUMA all to reach the mark ahead.

Rounding the mark, Telefónica Blue showed a clean set of heels, while Ericsson 3 caught their spinnaker on their spreaders, which rendered them dead in the water. PUMA powered in and quickly took the opportunity to nip between Ericsson 3 and the mark, as Ericsson 3 wallowed and the crew tried to sort out the mess.

Meanwhile, Green Dragon approached at speed, and sailed inside both Ericsson 3 and PUMA. They were not able to establish their position and it was Telefónica Blue, who led the fleet out into the Kattegat from archrival PUMA, Ericsson 3 and Green Dragon, until disaster struck and the boat struck the rock.

This is the second time that such a disaster has befallen Telefónica Blue. The team struck a rock in Qingdao just before the start of leg five and the boat had to return to Qingdao to be hauled out for damage inspection.

After two hours of combined efforts, the VO70 was finally towed free from the rocks before the more serious damage could be done.

Gabri OLIVO (ESP), Media Crew Member onboard Telefónica Blue, gave a first-person description of the incident, "Ask your worst enemy what is the worst thing you could wish someone and this is what would happen. We hit a rock doing 15kn while we were leading the fleet towards Stockholm.

"The reaction was very quick; Jono SWAIN got the guys to furl the Code 0 while Pepe RIBES was checking the boat inside. In these circumstances you have to be quick, no time for thinking, just reacting.

"After securing the boat and taking the sails down, I checked the boat down below to see the damage and quickly found out that the daggerboard had broken through the case and water was coming in. Both emergency pumps were running full throttle and the guys were bailing with everyone that they could find. A human chain was quickly formed to maximize the amount of water bailed in the smallest amount of time.

"Swearing and sweating was the common factor between all of us. "Why us? We don't deserve this..." Bouwe [skipper
Bouwe BEKKING (NED)] said looking at the bulb stuck in the rock. We don't deserve it at all, not to us and not anyone else. Two police boats were trying to pull the bow sideways, but the boat didn't want to move. We were sitting on top of the rock; we could clearly see the water, the skid mark left from the bulb 5-6 meters long.

"The choppy sea wasn't helping at all; our poor lady was shaking up and down every single wave. Every hit could have been the last one. The whole boat has been stuck on the rock for the longest two hours of this race. Finally we escaped from what could have been our grave and we got set free. We now heading back to port. We have to haul the boat out of the water and check the damage. Only one message I want to give to who's reading this email, friends, families and everyone else: WE WILL NOT GIVE UP."

Elsewhere amongst the fleet, Telefónica Black sailed a solid race to hold off Delta Lloyd, while Ericsson 4 remained mysteriously at the back of the fleet having also had a poor spinnaker drop at the leeward mark.

The 525nm leg nine is expected to finish in Stockholm on Tuesday.

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 -

Lizzie Ward (As Amended By ISAF)
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