PUMA edges ahead as the Volvo fleet catch the wind

Ericsson 4 from up the mast, on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race - image Guy Salter/Ericsson 4/

The USA boat, PUMA has edged ahead but it’s a nail-biting time for the fleet racing in leg one of the Volvo Ocean Race as it plays the waiting game. Waiting, that is, for the anticipated 40 knot gale that will propel them at record-breaking speeds towards Cape Town and the finish of this 6,500 nautical mile leg.

Speeds are beginning to edge up as the fleet curves around the South Atlantic High. Tempting though it seems, to cut the corner and sail less miles to Cape Town, sailing too close to the light airs in the centre of the high is not worth the risk.

At the top of the fleet, the leading pack of four are still locked together in battle, with no intention of backing off, and every intention of arriving in Cape Town first and breaking the tie that is shared among the top five boats.

Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) is the furthest south, with PUMA (Ken Read/USA) and Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) 31 nautical miles to the east of her. Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) is sandwiched in the middle.

The east/west split of the fleet effects the overall position chart as the boats furthest east are nearer the finish. The true picture won’t be seen until the fleet fully completes its sweep east and is on course for the finish.

'We have been having some interesting skirmishes with PUMA throughout this race, and again we find ourselves within four miles of each other, with them in the ascendancy,' explains Jules Salter, navigator of Ericsson 4. 'The pursuers, which range from Green Dragon in the south to Telefónica Blue in the north, all have better wind than us right now. The Irish have probably got themselves into the best position leverage-wise for a move to the front of the pack, we shall see,' he says.

In the second division of the fleet, Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) leads a group of one, Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE), and is in the uneasy position of being slightly to the east and nearer the centre of the high, 46 nm east of Green Dragon.

'Last night we had to sail the unfavoured gybe several times, as we were getting to close to the ridge of high pressure,' wrote skipper Bouwe Bekking, who had to point away from Cape Town to stay in the breeze. 'It is impossible to describe what the feeling inside is, for myself or SiFi, our navigator. It just hurts badly,' he said. Fisher is looking at the clouds and watching the barometer for any signs of the wind dropping. 'Perhaps I am just being paranoid after our rather unfortunate run through the Doldrums.. Personally, I’d rather call it cautious,' he said.

The crew of Ericsson 3 is largely made up from sailors who have not competed in this race before. 'We will just do it our way and see how good that is. I am sure some of the more experienced teams will push hard, but we will set our own pace. But we will give it our best,' said navigator Aksel Magdahl.

Kosatka, Team’s Russia’s blue boat, is 72 miles west of Delta Lloyd (Ger O'Rourke) and navigator Wouter Verbraak reported this morning that they were in 20 knots of breeze from the north – about five knots more than the rest of the fleet. Consequently Kosatka (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) has averaged 19.8 knots, the highest average boat speed during the last hour. She also claims the highest 24-hour run of 364 nm. Delta Lloyd continues to follow in the footsteps of Ericsson 4.

With boats and rigs thoroughly checked over and nothing left to chance, all that is left to do is wait until the wind finally arrives, which, says, Simon Fisher ‘ironically, seems to be the hardest bit of all.’

Volvo Ocean Race Positions - Leg One Monday, Day 17: 18:00 GMT

1. PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) DTF 2648
2. Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +10
3. Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +24
4. Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +30
5. Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +48
6. Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +70
7. Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O'Rourke/IRL) +127
8. Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +207