The stakes are being cut, trenches dug, bayonets sharpened and ammunition stacked as a wall rises around Cape Town. This is not an impregnable wall, not the thousand years of primacy of Constantinople sort of wall, more your thrown together, desperate-last-stand kind of hasty defensive position.
It will crumble before the onrushing Code Zeroes of the Volvo Open 70s, but it will slow their advance . . . The question is – how much?
Bubbles of treacherous high pressure are wafting around the Cape for the next couple of days, spinning the wind arrows on the weather charts like the rev counter on a Formula One car. The South Atlantic High will properly re-establish itself to the south-west of Cape Town, filling in a decent south to south-westerly True Wind Direction (TWD in the Data Centre) at the finish for late on the weekend. After all, this is the place they call the Tavern of the Seas, the seafarers favourite watering hole – they’ve got to open the bar at some stage.
As with all walls, the leaders will hit it first, and at 10:00 ZULU the undisputed leader was Torben Grael and Ericsson 4, still riding the cold front, still clocking up the 500+ mile days, 70 miles clear of second place (at 01:00), and over 200 miles ahead of anyone else. The lonely chase was being maintained by Ken Read and his PUMA team.
For three days, the boats behind Ericsson 4 have provided her navigator, Jules Salter, with a series of mobile weather stations. He’s watched as one by one they have been picked off by the oncoming cold front, gybing to the south-east to chase the strong winds from the south-eastward bound low pressure system. Late last night, there was only one weather station remaining – PUMA. Then, at 01:00 Friday morning the lights went out.
Ken Read called in a StealthPlay – his yacht won’t be providing any more positional or weather data to Jules Salter until 13:00 this afternoon, by which time, PUMA could be anywhere. So – will Read go south to cover the chasing pack, or continue to ride the cold front to the bitter end, chasing Grael and Salter? Before they hit the stealth button, PUMA were actually drifting north of the track laid down by Ericsson 4. So, what’s it all about, Alfie?
Let’s rewind a little - by yesterday’s TEN ZULU five boats were on starboard gybe and headed south-east - the wounded Telefonica Black and Delta Lloyd, along with the charging Team Russia, Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon. Looking nervously over their shoulder
Telefonica Blue navigator, Simon Fisher, reckoned that they would be going all the way down past 40degS in an email this morning. And they were looking nervously over their shoulder at Team Russia, reflecting again that they have problems pushing the boat hard in these conditions – not sure why, but hopefully he’ll tell us at some stage ...
The south-bound five were eventually joined by third placed Ericsson 3, who had slipped the tackles of the cold front more times than George Best going past a befuddled defence.
But Anders Lewander and his crew were finally overrun yesterday afternoon, gybing south in 20 knots of breeze. By this morning, all six were headed just south of east, in breeze that was more fresh than frightening (high teens to mid-20s True Wind Speed (TWS)), and varied from west to south-westerly in True Wind Direction (TWD).
We finished Thursday's TEN ZULU with the Predicted Routes (visible in the Race Viewer, with the numbers in the Data Tables or on the ‘Predicted Tab’ on the Leaderboard) anticipating that both PUMA and Ericsson 3 had to gybe to the south to stay in the stronger breeze. And even with a quick gybe, it looked as though the Green Dragon, leading the bunch on the southern bypass, would be through Ericsson 3 and very close to PUMA by the finish.
By Thursday evening, the prognosis for anyone trying to sail a straight line to the finish had significantly worsened. The Predicted Routes had both the Dragon and Telefonica Blue going past Ericsson 3 – there was even the possibility that Ericsson 4 might find herself under pressure. By this morning, Ericsson 4 looked safe – her predicted arrival (ARRIVAL in the Data Centre) is a full 20 hours ahead of her sistership.
Ericsson 4 were largely out of sight for the rest of the fleet but they made it official by playing their Stealth card Friday night. When their 12 hours was up at 07:00 Saturday morning, their advantage over PUMA was 96 miles as Torben Grael and his men march on relentlessly to the finish.
They are now within 328 miles of Cape Town and on target to arrive at 10:00 GMT Sunday but there is the parking lot known as Table Bay to contend with first. Volvo Ocean Race Positions - Leg One, Saturday Day 22: 0900 GMT
1 Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 328
2 PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) +96
3 Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +329
4 Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +389
5 Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +490
6 Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +537
7 Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O’Rourke/IRL) +567
8 Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +643 The TEN ZULU REPORT (so called because it follows the 10:00 GMT fleet position report, and Zulu is the meteorologist's name for GMT).