The cold front sweeps over the Volvo fleet leaving crews to battle huge seas and vicious squalls

For the Volvo Ocean Race fleet it was a rough night as the cold front swept over them. One by one the eight VO70s were left with enormous seas and fierce squalls.

Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) still lead, extending the gap between themselves and PUMA (Ken Read/USA) to 76 nm. They claimed another 24-hour record today ( see previous story here ), breaking through the magical 600 nautical mile barrier. Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP), however, has not been so fortunate. They lost a rudder, wiped off their bowsprit and damaged one of their daggerboards, cutting away the spinnaker in the process.

It was a similar story for the crew of Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) who have slipped down the leader board: “I don’t really know where to start as the last 24-hours has been so incident-packed,” wrote Ian, whose Green Dragon hit something hard in the pitch dark.

“There was deafening crunch and the boat went from 25 knots to a virtual standstill. Neal McDonald, who was helming, smashed the wheel and everyone else fell over,” he added. The crew inspected the hull, foils and keel for damage and report that all seems fine, apart from a huge vibration which later cleared itself.

As daylight broke, there was more worrying news. Green Dragon buried her bow so hard that the A6 spinnaker came back and stove in the pulpit and forward stanchions before ripping to pieces. “The Green Dragon is wounded, but far from slain,” wrote Walker this morning. The team is in fourth place, but 266 nm adrift from the leaders

Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED, pictured) in fifth, reported 40 knots of wind, lots of rain and big gusts as the front rolled over them. “The last 24-hours we have been hanging in, not only sailing-wise, but you can see that less sleep is taking its toll,” Bouwe Bekking said.

After the close racing of the previous two weeks, the last two days of wild sailing has caused the fleet to spread out, with 458 nm separating first to last. Green Dragon and Telefónica Blue have both taken a dive south, while Ericsson 4 leads PUMA and Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE) in the north. Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) in seventh, and Delta Lloyd (Ger O’Rourke/NED) in eighth, are also to the south, while the wounded Telefónica Black limps, with an emergency rudder, midway between the split of the fleet.

With 1122 miles still to run to the finish for Ericsson 4, computers are predicting a Sunday mid-morning arrival for her, but there are still challenges to be faced in the approach to Cape Town and the end of this epic 6,500 nm opening leg.

Race weather forecaster, Jennifer Lilly, says that winds will ease to the mid 20s today, the late teens tomorrow and finally fall to around 10 knots over the weekend. She says that without a doubt the fleet is expected to slow as they approach Cape Town, but it looks possible that the leaders will slow more than the followers. “The question on everyone’s minds will be: how much can the trailing teams gain,” she says.

Leg One Day 20: 1300 GMT Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to leader)

Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTF 1122
PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) 76
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) 163
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) 266
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) 345
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) 430
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) 454
Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O’Rourke/IRL) 458