Ericsson 4 take a strong lead but the next five places are all to play for

Ericsson 4 pulled off a disappearing act yesterday morning – escaping into a rain cloud and gaining 30 miles on the chasing pack. Behind them Ericsson 3, Puma and Green Dragon all struggled as Delta Lloyd scrambled out of the pocket and up to fourth position. (They now lie fifth behind Telefonica Blue.)

The mood onboard Delta Lloyd can be summed up by their navigator, Matt Gregory:

‘It was an awesome day. We’ve made massive gains on the entire fleet. All of our work that we’ve done strategizing about positioning our boat for ‘Race 2’ has paid off. We passed both Telefonica boats and are ahead of the Russians. Puma is 7 miles off our bow as I type this entry.

Today was a day of setting ‘pick and rolls’ off of clouds, sailing in and out of rain squalls and an uncountable number of sail changes to quickly adapt to the changing conditions. The rain was not only great for taking a quick warm fresh water shower, and the obligatory full body lathering of soap, but it was also a great opportunity to capture fresh water to relieve our injured water maker. Using our cooking kettles we captured the water that flowed into the center of our mainsail like a funnel.

I won’t get any sleep tonight as we skip from cloud to cloud, this is full focus, high stakes racing in the navigators hot seat. Gains and losses hinge on every decision and interpretation of weather data, radar imagery and gut feel.

Woah?make that 2 minutes?Here comes a yellow blob on the radar screen?got to run? this rain cloud looks like a doozy.’

At 10:00 GMT, everyone looked to have cleared the worst of the Doldrums and were sailing north in a freshening north-westerly. Ericsson 4 had rebuilt her lead from the scoring gate, with Ericsson 3 trailing in her wake. Behind her, but slightly further to the west were broken Green Dragon (third), with Delta Lloyd and Puma on her tail. It had been two very different 24 hours for Green Dragon and Puma….

Puma, Ken Read reports:
‘Windy running and reaching for a week with incessant fire hose to the face on deck was quickly replaced by finesse sailing with the Mast Head Genoa and a lot of heat. Below was aired out finally and the moisture was all but eliminated.

I will tell you that the last 24 hours of the windy reaching was pretty bad down below. Fact was that we had to have all the hatches and vents shut because so much water was coming over the deck. But outside the sea temp was about 29 c and the air temp was not far from that as well. Foul weather gear was miserable to put on but completely necessary and below was a sauna. Yuck. Throw in 11 guys without showers for 10 or so days and you get my drift.

From quite windy and exhilarating sailing to our second stint with the doldrums. For ‘Il Mostro’ we were on top of the world as we kept in one piece in the windy stuff and in entering the Doldrums we had moved up to third and could see second place Ericsson 3 about 3 miles away. Then came the first of many many bad clouds and torrential rain squalls with light, circling breeze in them. We watched Ericsson 3 simply sail away.

Later that day we saw a position report that the Dragons simply sailed right by us about 4 miles away and finally on the other side of us Delta Lloyd has sailed by as well. Unreal. I was told this Doldrums place could be a killer but I had no idea it could be this bad. And believe me, we aren’t trying to sail in the bad clouds. Just the opposite! We were in a virtual pin ball machine of bad clouds. When we thought we had a good three hour run the others did better. When we thought we had a bad three hour run (drifting and slatting) we were right. We took one to the chin and its now time to get back off the matt and start swinging again.

The weather reports at this point give us days of light air to go to Cochin. I know our shore crew who want to get into fixing the boat are not going to be pleased to hear this. Looking at the GPS last night during one of our particularly bad times we noticed that the estimated time of arrival to Cochin- using the speed the boat was going at the time- was Christmas day! Yikes.

But, all aboard remain up beat. Although we have had a tough Doldrums crossing so far we all know that things can change in a heartbeat. We are counting on it and all on deck are completely in sync with trying to gain every inch possible.

Not too much else exciting to report. Happy Thanks Giving to all back in the States. It will be one of the first times that I can remember not being with my entire family on this day–so hello to all and there should be quite a bit more Turkey available for you today compared to other years.

Green Dragon, Ian Walker reports:

‘At first light this morning we came through a massive raincloud and poked our nose into a North Westerly breeze. This was the sign we were waiting for, that we were exiting the doldrums for the second time this race. Fortunately, we seem to be quite good at getting through the doldrums as we have climbed up the leader board to 3rd.

It was an agonising 150 or so miles where flat calms were interspersed with rain squalls and wind from every part of the compass. We had 2 shocking clouds that stopped us in our track but nothing compared to the hole which engulfed Puma about 10 miles from us. We managed to just skirt it by 100 metres or so and gained about 15 miles in 2 hours – there was nothing Puma could do as a huge cell grew above them and stopped them dead.

We did have our bad moments – not least when I was steering and got caught in a downdraught under one cloud. It is the first time I have gone full circle in a boat without tacking or gybing – all in 20 knots as the lads furled the code zero. It culminated in us being stuck head to wind with our soon to be patented ‘multiple bridle no boom mainsheet system’ pinned in the middle and a spinnaker sheet wrapped around the rudder! 1 hour later the rain cleared the wind came back and we got going again – not very good.

So here we are now in a drag race with Telefonica Blue who somehow managed to escape the wider doldrums in the West, Ericsson 3 who must look at how Ericsson 4 got away in disgust and Delta Lloyd who we can see about 10 miles behind. Their crew changes seem to be working wonders as they are doing a great job. It is certainly still a fast boat.

Looking at the weather forecast there could be all sorts of fun and games to be had in the 735 miles to go and I wouldn’t rule out anybody just now. For us we are really happy to be in a boat race after 10 days without a boom. It is funny that nobody seems to mention it anymore apart from the odd wise crack like ‘ease the vang’ or ‘pull on the outhaul’. Oh how we laugh….’

Telefonica Blue, out to the west, has also made gains on the fleet. Sailing on a parallel course to the main pack they are now up to fourth position. But all the promise of Team Russia’s assault on the eastern front had collapsed. She was forced west overnight.