The Volvo fleet left Brazil April 11, bound for Boston with Ericsson 4 still in the overall points lead while Ericsson 3 looked to build on its victory in Leg Five.
by Chipp Reid
A venerable landmark in Boston will soon have two lamps glowing in its steeple.
This time, however, the lights in the Old North Church won’t signal a British invasion. They will welcome the arrival of the Volvo racing fleet as the seven boats complete Leg Six which takes the sailors from Rio de Janeiro to New England.
The International crew on Ericsson 4 and the Nordic crew on Ericsson 3 were both looking to build on their success in Leg Five. Ericsson 3 came all the way back from a late start and a shock decision by helmsman Aksel Magdahl to win the leg, which was the longest in Volvo Race history.
Torben Grael, the Brazilian skipper of Ericsson 4, saw his overall points lead as the Internationals finished second to the Nordics.
“It’s only two weeks in Rio after four weeks at sea, so it’s really busy,” said Grael, who is from Rio.
The fleet left Rio April 11, albeit reluctantly, at least for Grael, Horacio Carabelli and Jaoa Signorini, the three Brazilians in the Ericsson 4 crew.
“It’s always difficult to leave,” Grael said. “Apart from being from Rio, it’s a very good atmosphere for the race. I think other stops have not been so pleasant. I don’t understand why we don’t stay here longer.”
Spanish yacht Telefónica Blue led the fleet in the early going and as of 0600 EDT April 19, continued to hold a 100-nautical mile lead over Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4, which were neck and neck in a battle for second.
“It's been a week since we left Rio and today we start to have better sailing conditions.” Signorini reported from Ericsson 4 early April 18. “Conditions were pretty nice with 17 knots reaching with good waves. So far (it) has been a tough leg for us, with a lot of bad clouds and close racing with others boats. At the moment, we are trying to keep our second position and see what happens with Telefónica Blue who has been sailing well until now and extending her lead since Noronha.”
Like his captain, Signorini said he wanted more time in Brazil.
“It was not easy to leave Rio, the stopover was nice, but too short and busy,” he said. “It was great to see a lot of spectator boats during the In-port Race and start. It's always good to meet the friends and family and I have to thank them all for the great welcome during the last leg.”
Although only five boats made the grueling voyage from Qindao, China to Rio, a leg that took the winners 41 days, seven boats are racing toward Boston. Green Dragon and Telefónica Black both skipped Leg Five to complete repairs so they could sail in the final legs.
Swedish skipper Magus Olsson pulled off the victory of the race as he led his Nordic crew back from the dead to claim the first win for Ericsson 3. The Nordics suffered near-fatal damage on Leg Four and only finished the trek from India to China after 10 days of repairs in Taiwan. Ericsson 3 arrived four hours after the rest of the fleet started Leg Five and Olsson and his crew didn’t start their way toward Rio until they spotted the fleet a nine-hour head start.
However, navigator Aksel Magdahl made the decision of the regatta when he turned the boat north as it entered the Southern Ocean. The decision paid a huge dividend as Ericsson 3 found strong winds while the rest of the fleet battled doldrums. The Nordics grabbed the lead and never relinquished it, finishing the leg in slightly more than 41 days, and 12 hours ahead of Ericsson 4, which finished second.
Ericsson 3 didn’t have quite that much luck at the start of Leg Six and she and the rest of the fleet battled a week of light winds and long, rolling seas off the Brazilian coast. Helmsman Evind Melleby said as much as the crew enjoyed its time in Rio, it would be happy to put Brazil behind. The farther north the boat heads, the more it picks up the famed Trade Winds, which mean speed, heavier seas and the possibility of heavier weather.
“I think we are out of the Doldrums now. It was very windy this time around. Now we race through the trades. Full on,” Melleby wrote in an April 18 e-mail. “We had a few issues on the boat that we thought we could easily fix in the Doldrums when everything was nice and quiet, but we soon found ourselves increasing speed and had to do it when the boat was bouncing around. Well, we managed even though it was a bit difficult.”
Melleby said the Nordics currently had just one goal.
“We are currently doing about 20 knots average and the sun is shining. We need to push hard to pass our sistership Ericsson 4, whom we can see down here to leeward,” he said. "This is fun. A couple more days of this, I guess.”
The helmsman also clearly picked up his captain’s sense of humor. Olsson is famous as much for his litany of jokes as he is for his accomplishments as a sailor, and Melleby tried to make light of the storm threat as the boat picked up the trades.
“(We) hope that we will not get any squalls that will kill us and let the others go by. We need to keep an eye on that situation,” he said. “We have the Squall Management Group here onboard and they are having repeated meetings to assess the situation at all times. So far, so good, on Ericsson 3. We will soon put in our last gear. That’ll show them, I think!”
The fleet should arrive in Boston around May 4.