The second week of leg one of the Volvo Ocean Race to Cape Town saw mixed fortunes as the boats surged up and down the leader board at an alarming pace. Anders Lewander/SWE was making sure that Ericsson 3 was attached to leading boat Puma (Ken Read/USA) by a piece of elastic. Wherever Puma went, Ericsson 3 was sure to follow.
Ericsson 4 had dropped to third place after they made a quick detour to the Cape Verde Islands to drop off New Zealander Tony Mutter who had an infected knee, but, at the back of the fleet the fortunes of the two Spanish yachts were beginning to turn.
Onboard Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) the crew dared to hoist their repaired spinnaker. 'For the first time, we are back up to our potential numbers, making us all smile,' wrote Bouwe Bekking.
Conditions below were becoming hot and steamy making sleep harder. Heat means the equator and the Doldrums and there were many ‘equatorial virgins’ waiting to see what King Neptune had to say. 'I am more worried about this right now than any position report,' said Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker, who had not crossed the equator before.
Day nine and the fleet was fully in the Doldrums and down below, the crew were struggling to sleep in the stifling carbon fibre sauna. 'The heaters have been turned on and the grinders have been turned off,' wrote PUMA’s Ken Read/USA. Temperatures rose and rose again as the fleet dodged the big black clouds and the squalls that accompanied them. The next 24-hours would be critical.
Green Dragon, breathing fire, made her move on day 10 as she began to make her move on the fleet from her westerly position. Delta Lloyd (Ger O’Rourke/IRL) was looking good in the east, 31 miles behind the Dragon and Ericsson 3 found a new friend in Telefónica Blue and the two were happily latched together, 28 miles to the west of Kosatka, Team Russia’s blue boat who was bringing up the rear with Andreas Hanakamp/AUT (AUT).
Conditions were horrible for the crews. Lots of big clouds and plenty of rain meant that although a fresh-water shower was possible, the novelty soon wore off when everyone got cold. Overnight, Delta Lloyd narrowly avoided an accident when part of their rig detached itself and bounced off the mast and down the deck, narrowly avoiding the crew. The repair took the crew 12 hours, with two crew up the mast for an hour and a half.
By day 12, one by one the eight boats popped out the other side of the Doldrums and hooked into the south-easterly trade winds and started clicking off the miles towards the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha just off the coast of Brazil.
Green Dragon continue to breath fire on the fleet and held the lead round the scoring gate of Fernando de Noronha, on day 13 only to be swiftly relegated. Walker was estatic: , 'Today we achieved what nobody would have thought possible when we left the dock in Alicante. We managed to arrive first and score four valuable points at the scoring gate'.
PUMA (Ken Read/USA) was the next to add points to their tally followed by Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) and Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP). The top four boats were separated by just eight miles and by day 14, the four-way battle at the top of the fleet was becoming more intense.
At 1300 GMT day 14, Telefónica Black snatched the lead to head the field by just two miles with the Dragons and the Black Cat breathing down their necks. After visits from King Neptune, it was back to business for the fleet as it powered south in the south-east trade winds. With each passing day, the temperature slowly began to drop and sea boots and extra clothes were appearing on deck.
After two weeks at sea and roughly at the half way point, menus were on their second go round, and food had become less of a focal point onboard. 'I hate freeze-dried food,' said Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker. 'I have perfected the art of getting the food (that’s what they call it), from my spoon to my throat with minimal contact with my mouth, lips or tongue – the teeth play a key role in getting the food off the spoon – there is certainly no chewing required,' he explained.
There is still over 3,000 nm to the finish, but before the fleet can turn east and head for the famous ‘tavern of the seas’, they have to skirt the South Atlantic High, which means at least 1000 nm of sailing in what almost feels the wrong direction. The next decision will be when to make the turn east, and which boat makes that decision first. Leg One Day 14, 24 October 2008: 1300 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to leader)
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) DTF 3242
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +2
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +3
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +8
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +24
Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O'Rourke/IRL) +40
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +42
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +87
Positions are available every three hours on www.volvooceanrace.org