Their only boat that could seemingly keep pace at the front was PUMA and this morning skipper Ken READ (USA) gave GRAEL something to think about as he opted to use the teams StealthPlay, meaning they disappear from the position reports for 12 hours. Yesterday evening Ericsson 3 dived south to join the rest of the fleet, leaving just Ericsson 4 and PUMA, the two leading boats, on a more northerly and direct course to Cape Town.
After several days of extreme conditions, race weather forecaster, Jennifer LILLY, says that winds will ease to the late teens today and finally fall to around 10 knots over the weekend. At the moment Ericsson 4 look well positioned to just miss the high-pressure ridge set to move in between now and the finish in Cape Town, but the same does not hold true for the remainder of the fleet. They have consequently lined themselves up on a more southerly course, which allow less direct, should guarantee them more wind into the finish.
The big question is whether PUMA will use their stealth option to dive south and battle with the remainder of the fleet, or stay on a more direct northerly route and hope they can make sufficient mileage today to stay close to Ericsson 4 and avoid the high-pressure ridge.
Whilst PUMA were able to keep in touch with Ericsson 4, they could never quite match the speed of GRAEL and his crew and consequently saw the gap between them increase from around 30nm to 70nm over the past 48 hours. READ spoke yesterday evening as to why he was reluctant to push quite as hard as the leaders. "We have sailed 'il Mostro' in some pretty breezy conditions pre-race but none at this frenetic pace," READ explained, "To be sure this is an inherent problem of a one boat programme. Protecting the assets. I always felt reluctant to press the boat 100 percent in the pre-race practice because if something were to happen really badly to this boat, essentially the race was over before it even started. Not a very good scenario. Plus there is the racing vs practicing mentality. You can 'think' you are pushing a boat hard when you practice but, the fact of the matter it is that with a competitor next to you on in the same water you push much, much harder than practice. It is a fact of life."
"This all leads back to where our programme is at and something I have said earlier in this leg. We are learning. How hard is hard enough to push? How hard is too hard? Fact is the guys on E4 have schooled us all in this condition and my guess is they knew where there boundaries were, better than we did," READ added
The Night From Hell
After some extremely testing conditions, the reduced winds will allow the teams a chance to recover and focus on the tactical game as they approach Cape Town over the weekend. Wednesday was the night from hell for the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, as the cold front swept over the fleet, and one by one, the eight boats were left with huge seas and vicious squalls.
While Ericsson 4 rode the front, extended their lead and broke through the magical 600 nautical mile barrier, Telefónica Black (Fernando ECHAVARRI/ESP) lost a rudder, wiped off their bowsprit and damaged one of their daggerboards, cutting away the spinnaker in the process. The Spanish team have since dropped to the back of the fleet as they nurse their boat into Cape Town.
"It's not every day you get to have a ride as we have had over the past day or so, and to get a new 24-hour record has been superb, but the reality of that feat out here hasn't really sunk in," wrote Ericsson 4 Media Crew Member Guy SALTER (GBR) on Thursday morning, but it was a different story on Green Dragon, who has slipped down the leaderboard. "I don't really know where to start as the last 24-hours has been so incident-packed," wrote skipper Ian WALKER (GBR), whose Green Dragon hit something hard in the pitch dark.
"There was deafening crunch and the boat went from 25 knots to a virtual standstill. Neal MCDONALD [(GBR)], who was helming, smashed the wheel and everyone else fell over," he said. The crew inspected the hull, foils and keel for damage and report that all seems fine, apart from a huge vibration which later cleared itself.
As daylight broke, and the crew were tiring, Green Dragon buried her bow so hard that the A6 spinnaker came back and stove in the pulpit and forward stanchions before ripping to pieces. "The Green Dragon is wounded, but far from slain," wrote WALKER yesterday morning. The team is currently 337nm behind Ericsson 4, with Ericsson 3 their nearest challengers, 47nm ahead.
Telefónica Blue reported 40 knots of wind, lots rain and big gusts as the front rolled over them. "The last 24-hours we have been hanging in, not only sailing-wise, but you can see that less sleep is taking its toll," reported skipper Bouwe BEKKING (NED) on Thursday.
After the close racing of the previous two weeks, the last two days of wild sailing has caused the fleet to spread out, with over 500nm separating first to last.
Leg One Day 20: 07:00 UTC Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to leader)
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben GRAEL/BRA) DTF 731
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders LEWANDER/SWE) +290
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian WALKER/GBR) +337
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe BEKKING/NED) +423
Team Russia RUS (Andreas HANAKAMP/AUT) +501
Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O'ROURKE/IRL) +522
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando ECHAVARRI/ESP) +558
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken READ/USA) - StealthPlay
Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard*
(After Leg One Scoring Gate)
1. Telefónica Blue (Bouwe BEKKING/Iker MARTINEZ), 6 points
2. Telefónica Black (Fernando ECHAVARRI), 6 points
3. Puma Il Mostro (Ken READ), 6 points
4. Ericsson 4 (Torben GRAEL), 6 points
5. Green Dragon (Ian WALKER), 6 points
6. Delta Lloyd (Ger O'ROURKE), 2 point
7. Ericsson 3 (Anders LEWANDER), 1 points
8. Team Russia (Andreas HANAKAMP), 1 points
Volvo Ocean Race - www.volvooceanrace.org