After 38 hours of racing, Erle WILLIAMS and TeamRS survived a fight to the bitter end, emerging the victors by keeping focussed and positioning themselves firmly between the finish and their nearest rivals, Challenge of Netsurvey and Sony Ericsson.
At Visby, TeamRS passed 14 minutes ahead of Challenge of Netsurvey and Sony Ericsson who were locked in battle and overlapping each other at every mark rounding. But Williams kept his foot-perfect team sharp until in the end, flying a large overlapping headsail into the finish, they crossed the at 04:19:31, line four minutes ahead of Matthew HUMPHRIES in the soft early morning light. Sony Ericsson was a further five minutes behind.
"We had a good race,"
said a delighted Williams. "We had to fight to get into the lead so that we could stretch and use our boat speed and not have them [Challenge of Netsurvey] pushing us around. We've got a very good crew, a very good mix of people. We took a little while to get everything organised because we came late, but the guys are sailing really well."
TeamRS - First to Finish in Gotland Runt ©Oskar Kihlborg's
Humphries was gracious in defeat, "Erle and his team deserved that win, they sailed a very good race and full credit to them,"
he said. "For us it was a hard race. We're still half a point ahead and it's all on for the next leg. We've identified some things we must sharpen up on and think we'll be in good shape [for the next leg]."
Thomas BLIXT and his Swedish crew on Sony Ericsson are putting the pressure on. "It was really tight all the way," he said. "We three boats have been racing each other all the way round and we have been in sight of each other all the time. It's like one-design racing."
Elanders Ten Celsius was the first of the second generation VO60s to finish at just after 0630 in the morning, suffering throughout the race by not having the sails the leaders used. Co-skipper Mikke LUNDH has a crew with very little experience sailing VO60s. "Our manoeuvres are getting very good, but we have a lot of guys will little experience and it takes its toll in the end of the race when everyone is really, really tired. We're not losing out, but certainly driving the boat, you need to have a more experienced crew,"
he explains, adding philosophically, "That's how it is, we knew that when we went into it."
Atea with Jan MORTENSSON in charge finished three minutes later after a challenging race, match racing Elanders Ten Celsius around the course and finally loosing out to them in a tacking duel at Visby.
Pontona Youth achieved their goal for the leg by beating their rivals, the Swedish youth team sailing Nilorn by one hour. Fredrik FREJME, Nilorn's young skipper was disappointed. "It was a good race. But we had a bad start and went the wrong way from Almagrundet. We lost Pontona after that, the nearest we got to them was 25 minutes."
This team is however, equal on points with Atea. "To finish in fifth position overall would be an excellent result for us. What we need now is to keep the same good boat speed but especially to go the right way and as fast possible."
The final leg of the Volvo Baltic Race 2003, the longest race of the series at 510 nautical miles from Sandhamn to Marstrand, starts at noon local time tomorrow. Matthew HUMPHRIES and Challenge of Netsurvey (26 points) holds the slimmest of leads, point five of a point, over Erle WILLIAMS and TeamRS (25.5 points). This final leg will decide the winner of the Volvo Baltic Race 2003 in an exciting finale in Marstrand this weekend.
Result Accenture Gotland Runt (leg four Volvo Baltic Race)
TeamRS Finish time: 04.19.3 Elapsed time: 38:19:31
Challenge of Netsurvey Finish Time: 04:33:32 Elapsed time: 38.33.32
Sony Ericsson Finish Time: 04:38:11 Elapsed time 38:38:11
Elanders Ten Celsius Finish Time: 03:31:44 Elapsed time 40:31:44
Atea Finish Time: 06:34:10 Elapsed time 40:34:10
Pontona Youth Finish Time: 07:45:40 Elapsed time 41:45:40
Nilorn Finish Time: 08:45:48 Elapsed time 42:45:48
Volvo Baltic Race overall score after four races
Challenge of Netsurvey (Matthew Humphries UK) 26 points
TeamRS (Erle Williams NZL) 25.5 points
Sony Ericsson (Thomas Blixt SWE) 18.5 points
Elanders Ten Celsius (Mikke Lundh/Wouter Verbraak) 16.5 points
Atea (Jan Mortensson) 9 points
Nilorn (Fredrik Frejme) 9 points
Pontona Youth (Thomas Dahl) 6 points