The fleet are struggling against strong currents and light headwinds

The Volvo fleet are struggling against strong currents and light headwinds on the third leg of the race. “Welcome to leg three and the beat from hell,” explained Ken Read, skipper of fifth-placed Puma, trying to pick a way north into the Bay of Bengal in search of stronger breeze.

It has been painfully slow progress on this 1950 nm leg from Cochin to Singapore and the last 48 hours have been particularly brutal, with up to 3.5 knots of adverse current off the southern tip of Sri Lanka. The teams have not been able to escape the tidal clutches and are heading for shallow water because of two waypoints set to keep them away from the coast where there is a threat of piracy.

Overnight, the order changed again and Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) pushed her nose ahead of the field and now has a lead of 19 miles over Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) and Telefónica Black (Fernando Echavarri/ESP).

“The few miles separation we have established between the boats now has given us a little breathing space, but we will not let the pressure off at all,” said Telefónica Blue navigator Simon Fisher.

Yesterday’s leader, Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) has slipped back to fourth place, but is the most northerly of the fleet, 24nm north of Green Dragon, on the southernmost outpost. Puma is five miles ahead of Ericsson 4 who is on her port flank, Telefónica Black is in the middle of the pack, with Telefónica Blue, PUMA and Green Dragon in sight.

Ericsson 3’s (Anders Lewander/SWE) luck may have run out as they lie in sixth place: “It is easy to say when you are behind I know, but I do think it is a bit about luck. Yet we haven’t been lucky and we haven’t sailed very well,” commented MCM Gustav Morin. Ericsson 3 follows the track of Telefónica Black, having swapped places with Kosatka Team Russia who have moved well to the north. Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP), following in the wake of Ericsson 3, remains in eighth position.

Ian Walker, skipper Green Dragon, says that if there was a prize for tenacity, then his crew would deserve it: “We do not have the speed of the Ericsson, Puma or Telefónica boats and it is not easy to see them putting miles on us whenever we are near them,” he says. “We had been sailing for hours, making no more than two knots and often nothing towards the finish, so we had to do something. We didn’t really want to go south, but had to bite the bullet. We also noticed that Telefónica Black had made some gains that way, so south we went and, sure enough, the current finally reduced.”

But the team cannot stay in the south too long. Now they, along with everyone else, are desperately trying to claw their way north towards more breeze..

Hopes of finishing in Singapore in time for Christmas are fading and food has been rationed on Ericsson 4 in the expectation that this leg will take longer than planned. “It’s like being on a treadmill,” commented Read, “except that no one can get off. Doesn’t Mother Nature know that we have Christmas dinner waiting at the other end and we have to make it on time?”

So far, on this leg, there have been no reports of pirates, but the Dragons have had two narrow escapes with fishing boats. One incident in particular, in the middle of the night, was described by watch captain, Neal McDonald/GBR as ‘the closest he has ever come to hitting one”. “I guess that’s too close for comfort then,” added skipper Ian Walker.

At 1300 today (16 December), the breeze was beginning to build again and speeds across the fleet were up to a respectable 12 knots. However, there is no time to relax. The fleet has to manoeuvre their way through a trough of low pressure later tonight with the hope of finding more consistent breeze on the other side.

Leg Three Day Four: 1300 GMT
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to finish)

Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTF 1308
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) 19
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) 19
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) 20
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) 25
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) 30
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) 62
Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermudez/ESP) 67