Average speeds for the fleet are over 22 knots as the gap between teams widens

Average boat speeds for the Volvo fleet were at 22.5 knots last night (Ericsson 4 and PUMA both 19.5). Leaders Ericsson 3’s 24-hour run currently stands at 547 miles (Ericsson 4 – 519, PUMA – 496), and the deficits on the leaderboard are growing by the hour.

By the 16:00 GMT Position Report yesterday (10 March), Ericsson 3 held a 277-mile advantage over the sister ship with PUMA at 335.

E3’s Navigator Aksel Magdahl wrote of the last 24 hours: “We are sailing straight into the middle of the low pressure… and then screaming out on the other side straight for the second ice gate, gaining 50 miles a sched.”

Do they feel any added pressure being out in front? “Not really. We’re just doing what we do. It would be more pressure if the lead was 20 miles and we were seeing the lights of the other boats. I can imagine for the guys that are 600 miles behind, that it’s pretty tough trying to push and fight through these conditions. It’s definitely a luxury to be at the front.”

PUMA skipper Ken Read added “we feel like we are in a bit of a drag race but are dragging some tyres around from the back bumper. Ericsson 3 has essentially jumped a weather system on us… they are smoking away right now. It gets taxing on the brain, and at times tough to keep morale up.”

Given its southerly position, Green Dragon is more preoccupied with making the second ice gate, amid a shifting weather picture, than the gap to Ericsson 3 right now. Skipper Ian Walker says he is mindful of the hike in wind speed and wave height as they near Cape Horn: “Yesterday we were power reaching in 25 knots of wind and for the first three hours of my watch I never saw the speedo drop below 20 knots. It became a bit of a game to see who would finally break the sequence, with helm changeovers being critical times. First Tom, then Maniac (Chris Main/NZL) and then I all steered in turn successfully, but I am ashamed to say it was me steering as boatspeed momentarily dipped to 19.6 knots – although I point to a drop in wind speed as my excuse.

“We have been making excellent progress for a few days now since we finally got the spinnaker up. Unfortunately, we have had to sail a lot of extra distance to keep in the stronger wind and it has been a period where the ‘rich have got richer’. Those ahead have carried more favourable breeze and a more direct route, but over the next few days that should be reversed – or so we hope. What look like big leads right now should be dramatically reduced by Cape Horn.

“Cape Horn is already very much on our radar and every weather forecast we get I can’t help but look seven days ahead to see what is in store for us. One thing seems certain – it is going to be a very windy, fast, cold blast reach to the Horn in a few days time.”

Telefonica Blue, having completed fresh repairs to the headsail, and are grappling with a ridge of high pressure en route to the gate. The next 12 hours, says Helmsman Tom Addis, will be critical.

“Our life would be much, much simpler without the second ice gate right now,” he said. “We’ve got a delicate situation in front of us. We’ve had to take some pretty drastic avoiding action for a big high that’s setting up in our path. If we can keep good speed over the next 12 hours then the ice gate’s not too bad for us.”

To follow the racing, visit www.volvooceanrace.org/.