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Erricson 4 Again

Saturday, November 22, 2008

With a fading breeze behind them, the Volvo Ocean Race teams are gybing to the north as they point towards Cochin, India. The wind is lighter, and the temperatures are rising. On the leaderboard, just 78 miles separates first from last after a week at sea. In a good breeze in a Volvo Open 70, that's less than three hours of advantage to the leading boat.

The geography of the fleet is interesting this morning with Ericsson 3 the boat furthest to the west and to the north. Their stablemates, Ericsson 4 is just one mile further south, but much further east. At 04:00 GMT, the entire fleet was sailing slightly west of north, its track tracing out the pattern of a big circle.

It a nervous time for the front-runners on Ericsson 3, as they are the first boat to lose the breeze and are feeling slightly exposed out to the west.

"We are still happy with how we sail the boat and proud that we have managed to stay in first place for a long time now. It really feels fantastic. But times will turn tougher," acknowledged media crew member Gustav Morin last night.

"The wind seems to decrease for us in the front and stay strong for the rest of the fleet. It's pretty frustrating to once more be watching the opponents making big gains on us, sched after sched. It's a déjà vu from the first leg when the bungy-effect never let us go."

The middle row

The chasing pack of Green Dragon, Telefonica Blue and PUMA are more or less following Ericsson 4, with PUMA and Telefonica Blue in very close quarters to the southwest of Torben Grael. "It has been an exciting 24 hours with two of the fleet in view," wrote navigator Simon Fisher, from Telefonica Blue at 04:10 this morning. "Green Dragon is on one side and Puma on the other. We are approaching a gybe and everyone is playing their own little strategies, some high and fast some going lower and slower so it makes for an interesting time in the nav station constantly monitoring our performance trying to stay on top of the changing conditions. "To be honest, I am thoroughly enjoying being up with the pack and fighting it out, almost for the first time since this race has started do I feel that we are really in the hunt. Each boat seems to have their conditions where they are slightly stronger so it is all about managing the fleet and not getting suckered into playing someone else's game. I know that soon we will be reaching again and most likely that will be good for us!"

The eastern flank

Behind, from west to east, it's Telefonica Black, Team Russia and Delta Lloyd, who are furthest to the east in the fleet, a position that navigator Matt Gregory is comfortable with: "For the past 36 hours, we have been a very happy crew as we gain on the fleet with every position report. The boat is on fire (metaphorically speaking, of course). Our fractional code zero has been a workhorse for us. While still making gains, early this afternoon, we changed headsails to our R1 - high clue reacher. This sail allows us to sail about 10 degrees higher true wind angles than our fractional zero. This is a move we thought was necessary to make sure that we stay in touch with the fleet by sailing a parallel course.