The first five boats of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet have crossed the Equator

The first five boats in the Volvo Ocean Race have crossed the equator and were sailing in the South Atlantic trade winds on the 0400 position report (23 October). Reports of the various King Neptune ceremonies are coming in as the first-timers are inducted into this offshore sailing ‘brotherhood’.

Oddly enough, the skippers of the two leading boats have never crossed the equator before – Ian Walker on Green Dragon and Ken Read on PUMA.

Walker has led his team to the top of the table with a brilliant westward strategy in the Doldrums that saw Green Dragon escape first yesterday. PUMA and Ericsson 4 weren’t far behind and in the relatively stable conditions of the trade winds, their positions have not changed. Walker and his team maintain a 26-mile lead with Fernando de Noronha just 85 miles away.

But a battle behind is emerging. PUMA is just two miles ahead of Ericsson 4, and the two boats appear to be attached by a string. It’s only slightly less tense further back with Telefonica Black 30 miles behind Ericsson 4. But Fernando Echavarri’s men have some breathing space with their stablemates on Telefonica Blue a full 70 miles back.

“Finally we are out of the Doldrums, albeit in a rather mediocre fifth place,” writes Blue navigator Simon Fisher. “But boy does it feel good to moving again. All in all, life is good. We are headed to Fernando and first few points of this leg. Not as many as we would like, but given the difficulties we have had so far, I guess it’s not all bad.”

Behind, Ericsson 3 are fending off Team Russia, as well as a hard-charging Delta Lloyd. Ger O’Rourke’s team paid for being the most easterly boat in the Doldrums, but are now sailing a more favourable angle than the others on the run up to Fernando de Noronha. Will this be enough to allow them to make a pass? “We’re chasing the Russians and Ericsson 3 as we approach the scoring gate,” writes O’Rourke. “It would be nice to pass these two by the gate from our hotter (we hope) sailing angle.”

After the scoring gate, it all gets tricky again, with the South Atlantic (St. Helena) high-pressure system the major obstacle before Cape Town.