by Chipp Reid
The third leg is proving to be the toughest as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet makes it way toward Singapore from Cochin, India.
The two Swedish yachts, Ericsson 4 and Ericsson 3, were neck as the boats moved to within 150 nautical miles of their destination. For Ericsson 4, the points leader and winner of the first two legs, Leg 3has been the toughest battle of the race.
Spanish yacht Telefonica Blue grabbed the lead when the fleet left Cochin Dec. 14, but Ericsson 4 caught then passed Telefonica just before the yachts passed the scoring gate at the eastern edge of the Bay of Bengal. Ericsson 4 then stretched its lead before Telefonica skipper Bouwwe Bekking decided to chart an inshore course. The move paid off as the Spanish yacht passed Ericsson 4 and as of midnight Dec. 21 EST, held a 6-nautical mile lead.
Ericsson 3, with its mostly Swedish crew, moved into second place while Puma Ocean Racing held third. Brazilian skipper Torben Grael and Ericsson 4 were in fourth place, but with the boats grouped so tightly anyone of the four could take the honors in Singapore.
“We have a proper yacht race on our hands, as we are in sight of the shoeboat (PUMA) and Ericsson 3,” Bekking said via e-mail. “We had a great battle with Puma in the last 24 hours. They were reeling us in during the daytime, but once it became dark, we got the upper hand again.”
It was during the night of Dec. 20-21 that Grael’s luck ran out on Ericsson 4. The fleet separated into three lanes: the northern group, closest to the Malaysian shore, constituted PUMA, Telefonica Blue and Ericsson 3; to their south, and running down the middle of the Strait, was the leader, Ericsson 4, chased by both Telefonica Black, and rather further back, Team Russia; while Green Dragon was to the south, closest to the Indonesian shore.
As the wind began die, then shift, Grael decided to hold his course. By morning, the decision proved fatal. Ericsson 4 found herself running out of wind. For almost all of Dec. 21, Grael and Ericsson 4 sat, almost motionless, and watched their lead evaporate, The Swedish yacht finally caught the last of the sea breeze toward evening, but she had already slipped into fourth place.
Ericsson 3 meanwhile, showed she has just as much speed as her counterpart. The second Swedish yacht in the race stormed into second place as she rode light, variable winds close to the beach of Malaysia. Crew member Gustav Morin said the light winds and increasing pressure of the close race is starting to take its toll.
“It has been an intense time since we passed the scoring gate. We have done a couple of sail changes and all hands have been needed on deck, which means no sleep for the guys,” Morin said via e-mail. “Everyone was in a really nice mood when we passed the lighthouse on the north tip of Sumatra in third position, but now I think everyone is a bit tired. No one is really grumpy, but you can tell when the energy is on top and when it’s not. The boat is quiet and you can’t hear as much joking and laughing as usual.”
Despite the winds and constant threat of piracy, the fleet continues to fly over the 1,950-nautical mile course of Leg 3. Race officials expect the winner to reach Singapore on or even before Dec. 23.