Extremely close racing and strong winds at the start of leg eight

Leg eight of the Volvo Ocean Race started with a bang on Saturday (6 June). In approximately 38 knots of wind it became necessary to gybe – not the easiest manoeuvre in these highly-strung racing yachts at the best of times, but in a strong breeze it can become even more exciting.

It was a highlight for the Green Dragon team, who led the fleet round the Fastnet Rock late on Saturday night. They timed and executed their gybe perfectly whilst flying their masthead spinnaker. PUMA and Ericsson 4, both of whom were right alongside at the time, did not fare quite so well.

A 38-knot squall hit Puma just as they needed to gybe: “Along with a big shift, we decided to drop the kite and gybe to the jib, and jib reach for a bit until the squall passed. Good plan, bad execution,” explained skipper Kenny Read.

“Full gear up in 38.7 knots of wind is pretty touch and go. Just getting the kite down is touch and go, especially when it pops up and over the top of the mainsail and jams in the sheave,” Read added. “Last time I saw Ericsson 4, they were laying on their side and blowing out to sea.”

“We should have been smarter and sailed a little more conservatively, but it’s hard when you are charging along right next to first place,” explained Ericsson 4’s MCM Guy Salter. “We made a very big school-boy error and were caught in a huge gust. The boat seemed to accelerate in no time and before we knew it, we had ploughed into the back of the next wave and had white water everywhere.”

“This sudden stop also sent us into a spin and we ended up on our side with the kite flapping. We had broken our leeward steering wheel and its cage. Luckily the spinnaker was still intact and all of us were still attached to yacht – just – but with a few extra bumps and bruises.”

“We brushed ourselves down and got read after the wipe out. We went into the gybe, and I must say these boats are hard to manoeuvre at the best of times, but in 30 knots of wind, the inevitable happened and we spun out on the gybe.”

The team carried on as if nothing had happened. Skipper Torben Grael steered from the leeward side while the broken wheel was removed and the emergency tiller put in place. The boat was also taking on a fair amount of water and on inspection, it was discovered that there is a relatively large area of delamination between the hull and the deck on the after starboard quarter of the boat.

The team is happy that it is not structural and has set up regular bailing timetable, but it does mean more work for the crew once they reach the pit-stop in Marstrand, where assistance by their shore crew is against the rules.

Overnight, the fleet made very quick progress across the Celtic Sea, round the famous Fastnet Rock off south west Ireland, through the Western Approaches, leaving the Scilly Isles to starboard (only Green Dragon and Telefónica Black went to the south), past the Lizard Point and up into the English Channel.

Green Dragon and Telefónica Black lead, just seven miles ahead of the two Ericsson boats.

Leg 8 Positions: Monday, 09:00 BST

1. Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) DTF – 744 nm
2. Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP)
3. Ericsson 3 SWE (Magnus Olsson/SWE) 7
4. Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) 9
5. Delta Lloyd IRL (Roberto Bermúdez/ESP) 11
6. PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) 11
7. 5. Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) 12