After nearly sinking, the crew of Ericsson 3 completed Leg Four of the Volvo Ocean Race and immediately left on Leg Five.
By Chipp Reid
They may not win the overall title, but no one can doubt the bravery and determination of Magnus Olsson and the “Nordic Crew” of Ericsson 3 in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Olsson and his crew finished Leg Four of the round-the-world race Feb. 14 just after 6 p.m. local time as the Swede guided his boat into Quindao Harbor. Ericsson 3 arrived nearly three weeks after the other boats finished the race, just in time to leave for China on an epic 12,300-nautical mile leg to Brazil.
The Nordic Crew’s 27-day Leg Four began on a high as Ericsson 3 led the fleet on its way from Singapore to China. However, the fears Leg Four would prove the toughest ever held true as monster seas and hurricane force winds slammed the boats as they transitioned from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern. Two boats, Delta Lloyd and Telefonica Blue, dropped out of the race. For Olsson and his crew, however, the ordeal had just begun.
A massive wave slammed into the boat Jan. 26 causing a 4-meter crack in the hull. The boat began taking on water and the crew donned survival suits as it prepared for the worst.
“The water was pouring in from the hole and the bow section was delaminating. You could feel how soft it had become when you stepped on it; we could see it was moving in the waves,” said crewmember Gustav Morin. “Everyone worked like crazy, pumping, bilging and sponging the water out.”
The 24-hour efforts worked as the crew saved the boat but had to make the painful decision to head to Taiwan for repairs. It took 16 days of round-the-clock work, and on Feb. 13 Ericsson 3 left Taiwan and sailed to Quindao, completing Leg Four and picking up four points. For Olsson, who replaced Anders Lewander as skipper on Leg Three, it was a true Nordic arrival. The 60-year-old captain manned the helm wearing a helmet and carrying a battle axe as the Nordics celebrated completing the leg.
“I feel like a proper Viking," Olsson said of the Volvo race. “I think I've done 40 legs in the Whitbread or Volvo and I have never abandoned a leg," the six-race veteran said. "I have always finished and this feels like the best finish I have ever made.”
Olsson praised his crew as well as support staff for getting Ericsson 3 back into the race.
“The reason is our fantastic boat builders and shore team,” he said. “They never gave up even when it looked hopeless. They battled on and wanted us to finish in time for the next start and we almost made it.”
Ericsson 3 arrived five hours after the other boats left for Rio de Janeiro, including overall points leader Ericsson 4. The two Swedish yachts have different crews, with Olsson leading a mostly Swedish group while Brazilian skipper Torben Grael runs the “International Crew,” with sailors from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Brazil onboard. Ericsson 4 finished third in Leg Four as the conditions that nearly sank Ericsson 3 also plagued Grael’s men.
“We were just happy to finish and not have to make any major repairs,” Grael said. “We’re very close with Magnus and the guys on Ericsson 3. We train together and know each other well. I’m happy they are able to finish and keep racing.”
Still, just covering the final 650 miles from Taiwan to Qindao was no easy task for Olsson. Ericsson 3 sailed for China shorthanded as three crewmen got off the boat in Taiwan. Olsson said the conditions were far worse than the lack of hands.
“It was really frustrating in the end,” he said. “It was cold like crazy and we were freezing. We could steer for 10 minutes and then we had to switch we were so freezing.”
Olsson didn’t have much time to savor his first-ever trip to China. The crew had just two hours to load 40 days of provisions, extra sails, fuel and deal with local Chinese customs agents. Ericsson 3 also welcomed three new hands as Magnus Woxen, Arve Roaas and Eivind Melleby joined the crew. Richard Mason left with an injury, while Jan Neergaard and Klas Nylof finished their contracts. Olsson laughed at the task, saying he was sure his shore crew would get his team ready.
“It's well organized,” he said. “Richard Mason has organized it with our shore crew, so we're going to have a new mainsail – we've never hoisted the main which is a bit of a worry – and a few more sails. We have to install a fuel tank and a lot of fuel is coming on and all the food and few more clothes.”
Only three boats actually managed to clear Qindao as Leg Five sent the fleet on the longest-ever run in Volvo race history. Puma, Telefonica Black and Ericsson 4 all pulled out of the Chinese port on time, along with a repaired Delta Lloyd. The British boat, however, quickly pulled out of the race as she smashed her keel on an unchartered reef.
Puma led the fleet in the early going, with Irish boat Green Dragon and Ericsson 4 just a mile or so behind.
As for Olsson and Ericsson 3, the epic journey to Rio almost seemed like a relief compared to what the Nordic Crew had to endure in China.
“I feel very confident with the boat,” he said. “The boat builders are fantastic. Even though it was a rush job I never felt they would send us out if they were not happy.”
Race officials said they expect Leg Five to take 36 to 40 days to cover the 12,300-nautical miles from China to Brazil.