By Chipp Reid

The Swedes are heading east so they can go west.
Swedish yachts Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4 came to the proverbial fork in the road Feb. 27 in Leg Five of the Volvo Ocean Race in the form of the island of Fiji. The massive Pacific atoll chain forced captains Torben Grael on Ericsson 4 and Magnus Olsson on Ericsson 3 to either risk running through a channel between the two main islands of Fiji with uncertain charts or go around the islands and lose precious time.
Olsson and Grael chose east.
“It is deja vu with the ‘Dangerous Ground’ from the last leg really, with a big uncharted area. There are still charts though, but we don’t trust them, so we will try to stay away from there,” said Ericsson 3 helmsman Aksel Magdahl in an e-mail. ”If we want to be east, we will have to beat upwind for many hours in light breeze, which will be very expensive. So take a probable big loss by going west, but with a chance to sneak through without too much pain? Or invest even more in the east and take a certain short term loss of maybe 12 hours to stay in an area where the probability for more consistent breeze is higher than in the west?”
Magdahl said any decision was “a good opportunity to look stupid over the next two days.”
Whether the decision to go around Fiji would haunt the Swedish yachts, only time would tell. So far, however, both skippers have had a golden touch.
Grael, the Brazilian captain of the International Crew on Ericsson 4, remains the overall leader in the race. As he and Olsson turned east, Grael relinquished the Leg Five lead to PUMA Ocean Racing. As of 10 p.m. Feb. 27, Ericsson 4 was running third, approximately 35 nautical miles behind PUMA. Ericsson 3 was 15 nautical miles behind E 4. Although the distances might seem big, on a 12,300-nautical mile league, the gap is practically spitting distance.
“We've been sailing for 12 days and we still have 8.900 miles to the finish, but the rhythm on board is like we are doing a daily race,” said sail trimmer Joca Signorini of Ericsson 4 in an e-mail.
Signorini said the crew got an idea of just how quickly conditions around Fiji could change when the boat sailed over a sea mountain. “The depth went from unregistered on our equipment (so well over several hundred meters) to just 28m of water,” Signorini said. Who would have thought it, in the middle of the pacific, especially as there is nothing else around - no atolls or reefs.”
For Grael, an Olympics gold-medal winner, each mile his boat ticks off is a mile closer to home and his crew has a bet going on when Ericsson 4 reaches Cape Horn to make the turn toward Rio.
“All bets are off if we don’t make it though and without sounding all doom and gloom this is still possible as 30 days racing on a boat like this does take its toll on all the gear - so it’s still a big game of knowing when to push and when to ease off,” said crewman Guy Salter. “After all, we still have nearly 9000 miles to the finish.”
Onboard Ericsson 3, the Nordic Crew has probably changed skipper Olsson’s nickname from “Mange” to “Rocky.” The Swedish skipper literally brought his boat back from the dead to within striking distance of the leaders.
Ericsson 3 suffered a near disaster in Leg Four when a massive wave slammed into the yacht, causing a 4-meter crack in her hull. Skipper Magnus Olsson managed to get his badly leaking craft into Taiwan, where it took 10 days to repair her. Ericsson 3 arrived in Qindoa, China nearly five hours after the rest of the fleet left on its way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Olsson spotted the fleet a 19-hour head start but thanks to sustained heavy winds and relatively stable sea conditions, Ericsson 3 roared past Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon to take third place in the leg. The Swedish yacht is 55 nautical miles ahead of fourth-place Telefonica Blue.
“This Leg Five is the Volvo Ocean race leg for us Volvo rookies on Ericsson 3 and no one wanted to miss it,” said helmsman Thomas Johansson, who is sailing in his first round-the-world race. “So everybody worked flat out from the moment we hit the shore. The boat builders and shore team made ‘mission impossible’ become possible.”
Olsson, who took over as skipper from Anders Lewander during Leg Three, said the crew’s spirit not only saved the boat after it nearly sank but got his team back in the race.
"Everyone has been fighting so hard to keep the boat going at 100 percent and it's fantastic that we are doing so well and staying in good shape even though we haven't had any time to rest since Singapore, because of the crack in the hull,” Olsson said. “It has just been a full on marathon for us on Ericsson 3.”
Johansson, however, said much of the credit belonged to Olsson.
“All this shows the dedication from the whole core crew of Ericsson 3, led by 'Mange' (Magnus Olsson), who has, by his own example, taught us all that the boat and the team comes first,” Johansson said. “Our baby is our tool and we need to treat her well.”
Leg Five from Qindao, China to Rio de Janeiro, is the longest single lead in Volvo race history. Race organizers expect the five remaining boats in the flotilla to take 30 to 35 days to reach Brazil. The yachts left China on Feb. 14.