17 april, 2009

Tätt bakom ledaren – Ericssonbåtarna i topp

Det svänger ordentligt i Volvo Ocean Race. Telefonica Blue behåller sin ledning när det återstår 2 800 Nm. Men placeringarna därefter varierar kraftigt. På lördagseftermiddagen låg Ericssons båtar tvåa respektive trea. Det skiljer bara 1 Nm mellan tvåan och trean. Avståndet till ledarbåten är dock över 100 Nm. Bilden ovan är från Ericsson 3.

Det finns alltså all anledning att tro att spänningen kommer att hålla i sig ända till Boston. Ingen båt, förutom Telefonica Blue, verkar kunna dra ifrån det övriga fältet.

Ericsson 4, som leder Volvo Ocean Race totalt, med sin skeppare Torben Grael, släpper dock inte greppet om andraplatsen och verkar vara den båt som kan utmana Telefonica Blue om slutsegern på den här etappen.

Martin Krite signalerar segelskifte ombord på Ericsson 3. Foto Gustav Morin/EricssonRacingTeam

Här är den senaste pressreleasen på engelska från Race Office:

Saturday, 18 April 2009, 1330 GMT


So much for the Doldrums. The entire fleet appears to have emerged more or less unscathed by the ITCZ on its passage north. If there are winners from this push through the notoriously calm and tricky area to sail, it’s been the boats at the front and the back of the fleet.

First, to the front, where Telefonica Blue continues to stretch away from the chasing pack. Bekking and his blue boat were first into the trade winds, and as such, have only added to their advantage over the past 24 hours.

At 13:00 GMT on Friday, Telefonica Blue held a 63-mile lead. Today on the 13:00 position report, that advantage was in triple digits at 106 miles.

In a short email today, skipper Bouwe Bekking referred to his concern about the fleet closing in on him again, but there’s no imminent danger of that in the forecast.

“We have been going well and stretched away a nice amount, so it is up to us to keep this going until the finish,” he wrote. “We will compress again, as soon we start sailing in lighter air the others will gain quickly. It looks tricky ahead, so a matter of keeping our eyes open.”

Bouwe may be being polite in keeping up hope for those behind. His navigator, Tom Addis, was more blunt about his team’s prospects when he contacted Race HQ last night.

“A key milestone down for us today – reaching and extending in the north east trades,” Addis confirmed. “This means a couple of key potential stumbling blocks are now out of the way, which is a massive relief for us all on board, Fernando and the doldrums ticked off, now it’s into some simple sailing again.”

It may be simple trade wind sailing, but it’s surely not easy for that bunch behind. As Cameron Kelleher reported yesterday, we have a helluva race on our hands: 15 miles between second place and sixth place, with boat speed likely to be the dominant difference maker (along with the odd, random cloud) now that we’re back in the trades.

A quick peek into the Data Centre shows what this is all about.

At 13:00 GMT today, the range of windspeed across the fleet was just 1.5 knots (from 18.5 knots on Ericsson 4 to 20 knots for Telefonica Black and Green Dragon). So as you would expect, boat speeds as well are fairly uniform. A look at the 24 hour runs confirms this. Leaving aside Telefonica Blue, they range by just 20 miles across the rest of the fleet.

There is still a reasonable amount of leverage between Ericsson 4 as the most westerly boat in the fleet and PUMA in the east – about 35 miles – but other than that, the next few days are all about teasing out every fraction of speed possible from your steed.

At the top of the story, we said the winners in the Doldrums were at the front and back of the fleet. For Green Dragon, in seventh place, this was a chance to get back into the match and they’ve done just that.

Their disadvantage in reaching conditions has been well documented, but Ian Walker’s team consistently shows some tactical nous when the situation calls for it, to get themselves back up the leaderboard.

The last 24 hours have been no different, with the Dragons at one point getting within sight of the others ahead. Unfortunately for them, in the conditions forecast now, they can expect to slide back a little over the coming days.

“It’s been an exciting 24 hours for us (as) we gained lots of miles in the Doldrums getting within sight of Ericsson 3 and Telefonica Black,” wrote Walker this morning.

“The Doldrums had plenty of rain clouds and sail changes but the bottom line was we kept moving well in the right direction most of the time. It was crucial that we went well through this stage as four days of power reaching lie ahead of us. We are now settled into reaching in 20 knot NE Trade winds which means we can rattle off over 400 miles per day straight at Boston – something that is unusual for this race so far.”

Wouter Verbraak, Delta Lloyd’s snavigator, has sent in a good description of what we can expect over the next few days as his team prepares for battle in the trade winds. As with Green Dragon, the current conditions aren’t favourable to the men on Delta Lloyd, who will be trying to keep the game close, in hopes of an opportunity to make a move in the future.

“Speed is what it is all about again for the next 2000 NM to pass the Caribbean Islands. No big passing lanes, just full focus on squeezing every last tenth of a knot out of the boat.

“Bar the Green Dragon, the newer generation boats have significantly more stability than us, so we will have to work our hardest in the next 48 hours to keep up with them. After this at least the winds will shift right a bit, the wind angle will open up, and the stability will not be as hard.

“Good to see that everybody here on the Team Delta Lloyd is giving it everything, and is always looking for that little extra. The atmosphere on board is good. Determined, focused and always some smiles and a little joke around. Time to hammer out some big skeds, reaching is where these boats excel. Boston here we come!!”