The Swedish yacht Ericsson4 gave new meaning to the term “fly like the wind” when it shattered a world speed record for sailboats off the coast of Africa.
Ericsson4, one of two Swedish yachts in the famed Volvo Ocean Race, set the record late Oct. 29 when it used 30-knot winds and a following sea to cover 602.7 miles in a 24-hour period. Ericsson4 set its record in the treacherous South Atlantic as the yacht made its way toward Cape Town, South Africa from Alicante, Spain. She maintained an average speed of 25 knots despite heavy seas.
The Swedish yacht shattered the previous record of 562.97 miles Dutch boat ABN Amro 2 set in January 2006. The Dutch boat, under French skipper Sebastien Josse, set its record in the Indian Ocean during the previous edition of the Volvo race.
The World Sailing Speed Record Council must still ratify the record run, which is the ruling body for monohull and multihull racing. The Ericsson4 record would stand for monohulls.
“The record is a great achievement,” the Brazilian skipper of Ericsson4, Torben Grael, said in an interview on the race Web site. “To be honest we were not really looking for records, we were looking for a good ride on this weather system for as long as possible.”
A low pressure system in the South Atlantic caused the high winds, which in turn caused rain, sleet, and huge waves. Grael said sailing through the storm was no easy task.
"Conditions were marginal, especially during the night,” he said. “It was no fun at all. The problem was the waves, especially during the middle of the night as there is no moon and it is very difficult to read them so the boat has been jumping about.”
Ericsson lost one crewman off the Cape Verde Islands and is currently sailing with just 10 crewmen instead of the usual 11. The missing man only added to the fatigue and nervousness Grael said he felt during the storm.
"We have been very much on the edge,” he said. “If we had an easier sea state we could have gone faster.”
As of 6 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time on Oct. 31, Ericsson4 held a 71-mile lead over US Puma Ocean Racing of the United States. Chinese-Irish entry Green Dragon was in third place ahead of Sweden's second entry, Ericsson3.
The 24-hour speed burst from the Swedish yacht opened one of the biggest first-to-last margins in race history. Ericsson4 was more than 500 miles ahead of the seventh- and eighth-place yachts as the fleet headed toward Cape Town.
Ericsson4 was roughly 1,200 miles away from Cape Town, which race officials say the yachts should reach Nov. 2 or Nov. 3. The race ends next June when the yachts complete their 37,000-mile voyage in St Petersburg, Russia.
By Chipp Reid
Ericsson4 passes through the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha, on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Photography: Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race