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14 March 2006, 11:57 am
Looking Back On Leg Four
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Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

For once, there was no mention of hydraulic rams and the Volvo Ocean Race crews were able to get down to some serious sailing - and boy, did it get serious. Compression in the fleet produced some of the most exciting action so far, but again it was ABN AMRO ONE who came out winners on leg four from Wellington, New Zealand to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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After a 6,700 nautical mile bare knuckle joust, largely played out in the Southern Ocean and stretched out over three compelling weeks, just 16 hours separated the winners ABN AMRO ONE, skippered by Mike SANDERSON (NZL), from Neal MCDONALD's (GBR) fifth placed Ericsson at the finish line in Rio de Janeiro. In sixth place, movistar are due in four days behind, their progress hampered by the keel fairing problems that had forced them into Ushuaia, Argentina to make repairs.

High Drama

It was on the twelfth day of the leg from Wellington that skipper Bouwe BEKKING (NED) contacted Race HQ saying movistar was leaking and they were standing in hip deep water.

A moment of high drama - where both Ericsson and Sebastian JOSSE's (FRA) ABN AMRO TWO, less than 100 miles behind, were put on standby to assist - was followed by messages informing anxious race organizers, friends and families that the worst of the problem was under control and they were safe and almost sound, and heading towards Argentina to make repairs.

When the problems arose, they had been lying second, neck and neck with Paul CAYARD's (USA) Pirates of the Caribbean and putting the pressure on ABN AMRO ONE at the head of the fleet. Like all the front runners, they were, 'Blasting at 25 knots like madmen through the most remote ocean in the world,' as they put it, and loving every moment.

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Water everywhere below decks
on movistar...
© Pepe RIBES
Then the canting keel sliding, fairing plates, that do so much to keep water out of the boat as well as to smooth the hole around the keel, were ripped off by the force of water. It was a repeat of what had happened to Pirates on day one of the race all that time ago in November. The wet box above the keel, which is intended to complete the watertight integrity of the hull, leaked badly and all too quickly the centre section of the hull was filling.

Watertight bulkheads, required by the rule for all Volvo Open 70s, are designed to protect the buoyancy of the hull and would have prevented the boat sinking, but in the middle of the night, with very cold water up to your waist, even experienced ocean racing crews cannot be expected to treat such a situation as normal. But they quickly rallied, stopped the boat and Chris NICHOLSON (AUS) dived down to the battery box to connect two high capacity pumps - a compulsory addition to the inventory since Cape Town - directly to the batteries. Despite numerous shocks, NICHOLSON managed the job and soon the pumps had the water under control.

Within 24 hours, they were looking ahead to the next five legs, the four inshore races and the two scoring gates to see where they could pick up crucial points to at least give the Dutch meisters a run for their money and hopefully get themselves on the podium.

Out Of The Southern Ocean

Most crews emerged from the Southern Ocean relieved that the ice waypoints, which prevented them from going too far south, had kept their grey hairs at bay. There was no mention of the icebergs or growlers that so terrified the crews in the last race, but some felt the full force of the ocean's spiteful temper, especially at the scoring gate at Cape Horn, which tested both the mettle of the crews and the skills of the navigators.

The racing was tense with each six hour schedule showing big losses and gains, resulting in never ending changes to the leaderboard. And the conditions, especially on the approach to Cape Horn, were bumpy and deeply unpleasant, to say the least, as ABN AMRO TWO navigator Simon FISHER (GBR) described, 'Right now we are running downwind in massive seas, 45 knots of wind and at times upwards of 35 knots of boat speed. We have been buffeted by squall after squall in the last few hours making things interesting.

'Any hope of getting the cheesy photo in front of Cape Horn has been long since abandoned - right now we'll just be happy to get passed the thing, collect our points and head onwards to Brazil.'

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The Southern Ocean presented
its full range of conditions
© Pepe RIBES
They narrowly avoided a Chinese gybe. Not so Ericsson, which was laid on its side for 20 minutes in the dead of night.

'The scariest part was looking up at the boom which was pointing nearly vertical by now and knowing that within seconds the mainsail would gybe uncontrollably,' Steve HAYLES (GBR) said shortly after the wipe out.

'The sail, the ropes attached to it and, more worryingly, the boom, come across with such phenomenal power that anyone in the way would be lucky to survive. Combined with tons of kit now on the wrong side, the boat laid over to about 70 degrees and the mess on deck was completely indescribable; everything was on the wrong side, the mainsail was pinned against the runner and every single rope was a tangled heap of spaghetti in the cockpit which was now full of tons of water.'

All the crew admitted to being scared and disorientated, and the loss of miles came as a major blow, especially after they had spent 36 hours without a spinnaker not long after the start of the leg, which had already slowed them down.

Brasil 1 Celebrate In Style

On Torben GRAEL's (BRA) Brasil 1, they had a party as they rounded the Horn, despite facing 40 knots of wind and recording 41 knots of boat speed on the clock.

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Brasil 1 celebrate rounding
Cape Horn
© Brasil 1
Each bump made their hearts stop, but they found some cachaça and cigars to make the passage more bearable and thanked the gods that their boat was strong and fast enough to see them turning left at the Falklands Islands in third place.

They were desperate to keep the momentum going throughout their flight north and arrive in their home port at Rio to a hero's welcome.

Frustration Towards The Finish

But it did not quite work out like that. In the final few days, the winds died and frustration grew, not just on Brasil 1, but across the fleet, which at times crawled along at less than two knots. The exception was the leader ABN AMRO ONE which enjoyed the best of the winds. As the finish line loomed, it was a case of the rich getting richer and SANDERSON's lead grew to more than 100 miles, which was more than adequate to compensate for any dip in performance due to their struggles in light airs just offshore.

ABN AMRO ONE crossed the line in first place, to record their third victory in four legs and consolidate their position at the top of the overall leader board. Pirates of the Caribbean came in almost four hours later and behind them, there was a fight for third place between Brasil 1 and ABN AMRO TWO.

It was the kids on the Dutch boat that squeezed across the line to take the final podium place, though with their radar down, Brasil 1's skipper GRAEL had no idea he had missed third place until he entered the Marina da Gloria and saw three boats already parked on the pontoons. He thought Brasil 1 had finished third, but still managed a smile as he came alongside in his home port.

These three boats finished within 49 minutes of each other. The crews were exhausted and relieved, many of them looked haggard and thin, reflecting the sheer tension and torment they had endured during their second and final crossing of the Southern Ocean.

Ericsson's Nightmare Continues

Behind them the appalling luck of the Ericsson team continued. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place goes the old saw, but for Ericsson it did - once in Melbourne, Australia when shore crew member Tim DEAN was taken to hospital after a shock while up the mast in a thunderstorm, and then again some 18 hours out of Rio. This time the lightning set fire to the wind instruments at the top of the mast and fried every other piece of electronic equipment aboard. They sailed over the finish line with a blackened blob at the top of their mast instead of B&G's latest. Perhaps the only positive to take from the incident is that the strike might signal a change of luck for MCDONALD and his crew.

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Paul CAYARD has plenty to
ponder if he wants to catch the
leading Dutch boats

Ericsson started the leg in fine form and was disputing the front positions for some time, until they blew a vital spinnaker. Repairs took 36 hours and by the time it was ready to go again they had dropped off the leading pack and never made up the ground until Cape Horn. There they closed to within 50 odd miles of the lead, but even in the light winds before Rio they were not able to make inroads.

Into The Future

With movistar taking it easy on their passage from Ushuaia to Rio and expected to come in about four days after the leader, the Southern Ocean is out of the way for the Volvo Ocean race with none of the dire consequences predicted by the armchair pundits and naysayers. This leg has been noticeable for the virtually complete absence of hydraulic ram-linked woes.

In this leg the Volvo Open 70 has been proven to be the incredibly fast and thrilling boat it was designed to be, and the racing has proved to be closer than anybody might have predicted. Granted there is still that one boat out there in the lead, but as CAYARD predicted, it would take until Rio for his team to get things sorted and to make their impression on the standings, so the ABN AMRO ONE boys might not have it all their own way from now on.

CAYARD's prediction seems to be coming true and SANDERSON and the ABN AMRO ONE team must be hoping that they can raise their game too in order to take on the challenge of the Pirates.

Leg Four Finish Report, 14 March 2006
(movistar still racing)

Pos Team Nation Skipper TLPTS Arrival Time Leg Time RPTD Overall
1 ABN AMRO ONE NED Mike SANDERSON (NZL) 10.5 11/03/2006 - 03:18:23 UTC 020d 01h 48m 23s 49 1
2 Pirates of the Caribbean USA Paul CAYARD (USA) 9 11/03/2006 - 07:06:50 UTC 020d 05h 36m 50s 30.5 3
3 ABN AMRO TWO NED Sebastian JOSSE (FRA) 7 11/03/2006 - 07:36:10 UTC 020d 06h 06m 10s 35 2
4 Brasil 1 BRA Torben GRAEL (BRA) 6.5 11/03/2006 - 07:55:04 UTC 020d 06h 25m 04s 26.5 5
5 Ericsson Racing Team SWE Neil MACDONALD (GBR) 4.5 11/03/2006 - 19:12:52 UTC 020d 17h 42m 52s 21 6

TLPTS: Total Leg Points
RPTD: Race Points To Date
Overall: Overall Position

Position Report At 1000 Hours UTC, 14 March 2006
Team Nation Skipper Latitude Longitude DTF DTL DTLC CMG SMG VMG ETA
movistar ESP Bouwe BEKKING (NED) 28 6.15S 46 0.04W 348 0 0 11 10.5 11.7 15/03/2006 - 2102 UTC

DTF: Distance To Finish
DTL: Distance To Leader
DTLC: Distance To Leader Change; the difference between the distance from the boat to the leader taken at the time of the last six hour poll, and the distance from the boat to the leader at the previous poll
CMG: Course Made Good; the average course steered over the period of the past six hours up to the time of the last poll
SMG: Speed Made Good
VMG: Velocity Made Good; the average velocity of the boat towards the finish over the entire leg
ETA: Estimated Time of Arrival

Overall Leaderboard
(Up to and including Leg Four - not yet ratified)

Pos Team Nation Skipper Pts
3 Pirates of the Caribbean USA Paul CAYARD (USA) 30.5
4 movistar ESP Bouwe BEKKING (NED) 28
5 Brasil 1 BRA Torben GRAEL (BRA) 26.5
6 Ericsson Racing Team SWE Neal MCDONALD (GBR) 21
7 ING Real Estate Brunel AUS Grant WHARINGTON (AUS) 11.5

For a complete list of all the news about the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 CLICK HERE.

Volvo Ocean Race (As Amended By ISAF). Image, ABN AMRO ONE secures another leg victory:© David BRANIGAN
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