Wild ride to Cape Town for Volvo fleet

Gustav Morin/Ericsson Racing Team/Volvo Ocean Race.(Left to Right): Helmsman/Trimmer Stefan Myrälf grinding and Eivind Melleby onboard Ericsson 3, chasing the pack South during Leg 1.

There are under 3,000 nautical miles to Cape Town and the talk among the crews is of hitching a ride and holding on tight.

The express train as mentioned in Mark Chisnell’s TEN ZULU REPORT, is the low pressure system that the fleet is about to encounter.

It promises 40 knot gales and benefits for the most southerly positioned boats. Those that don’t have a ticket will miss out. Before the high winds though, a drop in current wind speed from 15 knots is expected.

The leaders, headed by Ericsson 4, have started to make their turn to the east. At the 1600 GMT Position Report Torben Grael’s men held a one-mile advantage over PUMA followed by Green Dragon (+25) and Telefonica Black (+32).

Telefonica Blue (+34) heads a strung–out second group from Ericsson 3 (+85) and Delta Lloyd (+87). Team Russia, meanwhile, trails the leader by 192 miles.

Ian Walker, skipper of Green Dragon, says the race is about to get ‘interesting’ as all the boats behind get the wind further north and cut the corner on the leaders.

'All our efforts are going into the onslaught that lies ahead. I have prepared my drysuit, boots and safety kit and caught up on a lot of sleep. The router suggests we will do the final 3400 miles in seven days which is nearly 500 miles per day,' he says.

'The boats should align north/south and it will look like a fairly equal dash for Cape Town. Those that do not keep up with the pace will drop off the back of the system and lose hundreds of miles. It’s our job not to let that happen to us.'

The gales could see the fleet cover in excess of 500 nautical miles in a 24-hour period, which means looking for an average boat speed of around 24 knots. So far, it has taken the fleet three days to cover almost 900 nm south from the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha.

Across the fleet, the crews are trying to get as much rest as possible, in anticipation of the heavy weather to come.

'We have been preparing for war since early morning,' writes Mikel Pasabant on Telefonica Black. 'We will at last catch up with the winds which will take us closer to the finish line and be able to fight for the leading place.'

According to Guy Salter, Media Crew Member on Ericsson 4, these conditions will be a stern test for the new generation of Volvo Open 70.

'In the old Volvo Ocean 60s, 40 knots would be towards the upper end of racing mode, but in these boats, 40 knots is a lot more like survival mode,' he said. 'It will be bumpy, wet and very uncomfortable.

'There has been a lot of activity onboard today with everyone triple checking their areas ready for the mighty kicking we are about to receive. Nobody is really looking forward to sailing in 40kts - but it should be fast.'

Green Dragon’s navigator, Ian Moore, adds: 'The reward for this southerly dash is brewing just south of Cabo Frio, and hopefully will start ploughing east following the south side of the St Helena high, dragging the entire fleet with it.'

Meanwhile, reliability is occupying the mind of Eivind Melleby of Ericsson 3. 'We will have to hold on tight and stay concentrated to keep the crew and equipment in one piece. We have a long a long trip in front of us,' he says.

It should be a wild ride.

Gustav Morin/Ericsson Racing Team/Volvo Ocean Race. Mid-Bowman Anders Dahlsjö fixes the stack onboard Ericsson 3, chasing the pack South during Leg 1.

Gustav Morin/Ericsson Racing Team/Volvo Ocean Race. Mid-Bowman Anders Dahlsjö helming Ericsson 3, chasing the pack South during Leg 1.