Torben Grael of Ericsson 4 had his homecoming by winning Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race just after daybreak on June 11.
by Chipp Reid
Ericsson 4 crossed the finish line at 02:57 am local time (0457 GMT) and added another 8 points to its total. Stablemate Ericsson 3 finished in the 1250-mile leg seventh place arriving at finish line in the resort of Marstrand, near Gothenberg, at 6:16 am local time (0416 GMT).
Grael, skipper of Ericsson 4 and Olsson, skipper of Ericsson3 and the rest of the fleet set out June 6 for Marstrand, Sweden on Leg Eight of the Volvo Ocean Race. The 1,250-nautical mile jaunt should take the sailors just four days to cover, provided they avoid more than a few pitfalls, including traversing the most crowded piece of water in the world.
“This is a difficult place to navigate, very different from the ocean,” said American team Puma Racing's skipper Ken Read. “This is back toward the type of sailing that a lot of us grew up doing. Going around corners and tidal gates, plus there’s going to be a lot of variable weather.”
The pressure is likely to be greatest on Olsson and his Nordic Crew onboard Ericsson 3. The Swedish skipper and mixed crew of Swedes, Danes, Finns, Norwegians and New Zealanders all said heading toward Scandinavia made the leg special.
“I think a lot of us are feeling the pressure now, especially since we’ve done better than most people expected,” said Ericsson 3 watch captain Richard Mason. “We’ve been able to sort of sail under the radar a bit, but now, I think we have some higher expectations, especially the Swedish lads.”
Ericsson 3 seventh in Leg Seven
Ericsson 3 finished a disappointing seventh in Leg Seven that ran from Boston to Galway. The boat hit a whale two days in and lost an estimated 10 percent of its speed over the remainder of the race.
“We've been doing really well and this leg looked good for us," said navigator Aksel Magdahl. “The conditions would have been right for our boat to do well. But we were unfortunate.”
Olsson, whose team is fourth overall, insisted his men would bounce back.
"We are a little disappointed with the result, but that's life," he said. "We are going to have a big comeback, don't worry. I think we sailed almost the best we have done because we are learning all the time. If we continue to do this there is a big future for us."
The Swede said he believes heading for home would provide even more motivation for his Nordic seamen.
“When we get everything right, we have always felt that we can be at the top. I think we’re going to be really dangerous in Sweden, but it’s so important to do well from the beginning.”
Although Olsson was uncharacteristically quiet about his upcoming return to Sweden, Mason said he was sure the Swede would get the most out of his crew and keep them sailing at the same time.
“A great bloke and a great sailor," Mason said. “He’s a real people person. There are a lot of good sailors on this team, but they were sometimes a bit willing to go along with what was happening and not speak up. Magnus has helped them come out a bit, talk more, give an opinion on whatever the situation is. That's a good thing.”
For Grael, who jokes his Danish heritage qualifies him to sail with the Nordic Crew, Leg Eight offers the chance to essentially wrap up the race. Ericsson 4 has a 13-point lead and the Brazilian skipper is determined to add to that lead. However, no one on Ericsson 4 was under illusions that the seemingly short leg would be easy.
“We might see a variety of weather conditions on this leg from good downwind running conditions, fresh to moderate, to some moderate upwind. Maybe even some very light airs,” said Ericsson 4 navigator Jules Salter.
“The thing with this leg is there is a big moon at the moment so at night we should be able to see things more clearly and there's a lot of daylight as it's nearly midsummer. It will be pretty tiring because there will be a lot of light and everyone will be racing hard because they are in sight of each other. There will be a lot more boat on boat racing. I don't think you will be able to rest or have a big enough lead at any stage of the leg to be 100% sure of anything.”
Ericsson 4, under its Brazilian skipper, grabbed an early lead as the fleet rushed out of Galway into the Irish Sea. Sino-Irish boat Green Dragon was in second, as of midnight June 6 EDT, while Puma Ocean Racing was fourth. Ericsson 3 was in fifth place, about 90 minutes behind the leaders.
Race organizers on June 5 announced the addition of two rounding points to the leg. Each yacht is to complete a six-mile reaching lap about one mile off Hoek van Holland in Rotterdam.
The Volvo race, which began in Alicante, Spain in October, is to conclude in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in June after 10 stages covering more than 37,000 nautical miles.