Leg 4 has claimed its first victim as Green Dragon loses its forestay but saves its mast

Leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race – one of the toughest in the race – has claimed its first victim. Ian Walker/GBR and his crew were in fourth place and sailing in 17 knots of breeze upwind and a short, choppy sea, when the boat suffered a broken forestay. Quick reactions by the crew, who rapidly eased sheets and secured halyards to the bow, prevented the loss of the mast and the team will continue to race to Qingdao.

Having carried out a rig check, Green Dragon is now sailing with her small J4 headsail and full mainsail and has 176 nautical miles to the mark positioned off Luzon, which the fleet must keep to the east of. It is unlikely the team will be able to fly any other headsails with just a makeshift headstay, but although they will be handicapped for the final 1500 miles to the finish, they still plan to race as hard as they can.

Skipper Ian Walker said, “This is a bitter disappointment just when we were fighting back up with the leaders. It was a brand new stay at the start of the race and I have no idea why it should break now, if at all. I think it is the same as many or all the other boats in the fleet.

“The important thing is that nobody was hurt and, thanks to the crew’s reactions, we did not break the mast. It is especially disappointing, as we wanted to put up a strong performance on this leg to Qingdao. We will keep sailing as fast as we can without jeopardising the rig. As always we will not give up, however the forecast of gales for the next few days is an obvious concern.”

Elsewhere in the fleet, relief is widespread as the dangerous area of uncharted reefs and atolls is safely astern. During darkness, Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bérmudez/ESP) in fifth, collided with a piece of wood that slammed off the paddle-wheel sensor and sent the navigational system spiralling. However, the team managed to glue some parts together and the system was operational again with an hour.

At 13:00 GMT today (22 January), PUMA (Ken Read/USA) had regained the lead, Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) was just five miles astern, and Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) had dropped to third position. The order of the second row remained unchanged from yesterday although Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) had pulled back some miles.

Looking ahead, Jennifer Lilly, the Race Meteorologist, says that conditions will remain moderate for the next 24 hours; however, there is gale force winds forecast for Saturday. As a result, the focus across the fleet is likely to be split between racing strategy and safety concerns.

Jennifer forecasts that conditions should remain quiet until the fleet reaches the South Rock Light sometime tomorrow. There will be some increases in wind speeds, but nothing over 20 knots, which will be good for the wounded Dragon. However, once the fleet passes the Light, Jennifer indicates that the increases in wind speeds will be more in the region of 20 – 30 knots, and, as the fleet sails into the Luzon Strait, on 24 January, the wind speed will peak, with sustained speeds of over 40 knots and gusts to 50 knots possible. On top of this, as the winds build, the fleet will start to encounter the warm waters of the Kuoshio Current, which flows northeast against the winds, which will make for dangerously large seas.

Ericsson 4 is in the unusual position of last place, but the crew is confident. Although they think that they will have a deficit of as much as 60 miles from PUMA when the leaders tack back onto Ericsson’s course, they are relishing the prospect of more wind.

“This is what we have prepared the boat for and, hopefully, these are the conditions in which Ericsson 4 will start to excel. Time for us to get back into the race,” commented MCM Guy Salter

Leg Four Day 5: 13:00 GMT Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

1. PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) DTF 1453 nm
2. Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) 5
3. Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) 25
4. Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) 34
5. Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) 36
6. Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) 41
7. Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) 48
8. Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) DNS