PUMA, who is now assured second place overall, led the Volvo fleet out of Sandhamn, on the outer edge of the Stockholm archipelago today - a spectacular day where conditions were perfect for the start of the tenth and final leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 to St Petersburg in Russia.
Sailing confidently in 10 -12 knots of breeze, PUMA, Telefónica Blue and Ericsson 4 were the front runners off the start line and a huge spectator crowd needed no excuse to get out on the water and watch what these ocean greyhounds do best. A steady breeze and flat water ensured plenty of white water spilled from the bows as the boats started a leg for the last time, fully powered up and under a cloudless sky.
Leading round both buoys marking the traditional 'sausage' before heading to out to sea, the crew of PUMA had set the black boat up perfectly and extended their lead, while behind, Bouwe BEKKING
's (NED) bowmen wrestled with their heavy code zero sail, which had remained furled and unused on the bow and was slowing the blue boat down. Green Dragon scorched past overall race winner Ericsson 4, who had the pressure put on by sister ship Ericsson 3, while Telefónica Black and Delta Lloyd were in the second string.
Team Russia joined the pack once the racing fleet had completed the inshore loop, to sail, but not to race, homewards to St Petersburg, with owner Oleg ZHEREBTSOV (RUS) working the bow as he did in the earlier legs of the race.
Although speeds were good as the fleet left Sweden behind, the leg is expected to be predominantly upwind to Russia and race rules allow for Race Director, Jack LloYd, to shorten the 400-mile course if necessary. The fleet must arrive in St Petersburg on Saturday morning in order to clear customs and pass through two bridges, which will be raised specially in order to let the fleet into the historic city.
PUMA has now clinched second place overall, their performance improving hugely in the second half of the race. Telefónica Blue will take third after losing the battle for second when they finished last in leg nine after going aground in Marstrand, while Ericsson 4 is the runaway leader, winning the race with a leg to spare.
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard
(After Stockholm In-Port Race)
1. Ericsson 4, skipper Torben GRAEL
(BRA), 110.5 points
2. PUMA, skipper Ken READ
(USA), 98.5 points
3. Telefónica Blue, skipper Bouwe BEKKING
(NED), 92.0 points
4. Ericsson 3, skipper Magnus OLSSON (SWE), 73.5 points
5. Green Dragon, skipper Ian WALKER
(GBR), 64.0 points
6. Telefónica Black, skipper Fernando ECHAVARRI
(ESP), 50.0 points
7. Delta Lloyd, skipper Roberto BERMUDEZ
(ESP), 39.5 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