More than 30,000 people turned out to greet Torben Grael, Magnus Olsson and the crews of a pair of Swedish yachts as the Volvo Ocean Race came to America April 27.
By Chipp Reid
BOSTON – Paul Revere didn’t need to ride through the streets to announce the arrival of the latest invaders to head toward the Old North Church. All he needed to do was follow the crowd.
More than 30,000 people turned out to greet Torben Grael, Magnus Olsson and the crews of a pair of Swedish yachts as the Volvo Ocean Race came to America April 27. Grael and his International crew on Ericsson 4 took top honors in Leg Six while Olsson and the Nordic Crew finished second in the 4,900-nautical mile trek from Rio de Janeiro to Boston.
“Many things happened at the same time,” Grael said. “We managed to hold the lead when we were in front. It was a hard job with the slight sea breeze and then this new breeze. I’m quite happy we did it.”
Ericsson 4 barely held off its Nordic twin, crossing the finish line just five minutes ahead of the Ericsson 3. It was the closest finish yet in the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race. The two boats needed 15 days to cover the 4,900 nautical miles from Rio to Boston. Ericsson 4 crossed the finish line at 9:18 p.m. EDT. Ericsson 3 followed at 9:23 p.m. EDT.
“It’s been a trademark for this race,” Grael said. “All the legs have been so close and this was especially close.”
Grael grabbed the lead from Telefonica Blue 14 days into the leg. All of the boats rode a westerly breeze as they moved from the warm South American waters to the colder waters off the United States. As they rode a starboard tack – the wind coming over the port or left side – each skipper knew he would have to turn inshore to reach Boston.
That turn, known as a jibe in sailing circles, was a given. When each boat made the turn was the trick. Bouwe Bekking on Telefonica blinked first, turning toward Boston on April 23. Grael and Olsson held out another day and when they turned, the two Swedish boats grabbed the lead.
“We’re all a bit sad because we basically gave it away,” Bekking said.
Olsson’s mood was the exact opposite. The second-place finish marked the fifth time in six legs the Nordic crew stood on the podium.
The 60-year-old Swede suffered a suspected broken rib on the trip, but pain was the last thing on his mind. "We are getting some great results and I hope it can continue," he said. "Not many teams have been on the podium more than us in the offshore legs."
Olsson sailed nearly half the leg with his injury, which he sustained April 16 during a storm off Brazil. The injury kept Olsson in his bunk for five days, but nothing could keep the Swede’s spirits down after his boat’s second-place finish in Boston.
“We are very happy. What else can we be but very happy,” Olsson said. “With this crew, they do all the work anyway, and now we’re in America.”
Navigator Aksel Magdahl said he thought E3 could have nipped E4 had the Nordic crew not lost a sail in a gale. Olsson, however, said he didn’t think his boat could have overtaken its teammate.
“No, I don’t think we would beaten them. Still we got second place,” he said. “Next time. Next time, we’ll beat them.”
The victory gave Grael and Ericsson 4 77.5 points, a 13-point lead over Telefonica Blue. Ericsson 3 moved into fourth place with 53 points, trailing third place PUMA Ocean Racing by 11 points. Magdahl said he believes the Nordic crew has a legitimate shot at the bronze medal, provided it improves its performances in the in-port races, which count for two points in the standings. Ericsson has yet to finish higher than fifth in any of the in-port races and it completely missed the race in Qindao, China, due to repairs.
“If we sort out the inshore races - which might be a little too much to expect - and keep doing this well offshore, we have a chance,” Magdahl said. “We are the most consistent on podiums offshore. It is difficult but we will try all we can. We are still improving so we can do well.”
Leg Seven, from Boston to Galway, starts May 16. The Boston in-port race takes place May 9.