Ericsson 3 crossed the line in third, but drops to fourth after penalties are imposed. Matthew Sheahan reports from Cape Town
Every time he took a pause from grinding, Magnus Olsson’s fists punched the air in celebration. From the body language alone, his sixth circumnavigation appeared to be as exciting as his first. Finishing in third place aboard Ericsson 3 was cause for celebration for the entire crew, a team that had been dealt a heavy blow at the start of the event with the news that they would incur a penalty at each of the scoring opportunities so long as their illegal keel was slung beneath them.
Effectively the ‘B’ team, (although never referred to as this), the Nordic crew had been playing catch up before the event had started. A third over the finish line in a race that saw them lead in the early stages of the race, drove home the message that they were not there to make up the numbers.
Riding on board the boat after they had crossed the finishing line, I asked Olsson why this result meant so much.
“I have played a big part in putting this team together so it’s a very special moment for me. Before the start I wouldn’t have dreamed that this was possible,” he said.
But, while the team crossed the line in third, the penalty point deductions meant that they were pushed back into fourth for this leg. How frustrating was it to have this hanging over them?
“We have been leaking a lot of energy over that, a lot. But we cannot do anything about it, we will lose those points. We are going to put on a new keel though and from now on we will not have any penalties. We are going to battle on and beat the other skippers!”
Three hours later and Ericsson 3’s loss was Green Dragon’s gain as Ian Walker’s team crossed the line in fourth, but moved into third place after the penalty points were deducted from Ericsson 3.
“It was really tough out there, but we have got to be pleased with what we have achieved,” said Walker as he stepped ashore. “If we hadn’t done our 2,000-mile qualifier in rough conditions, I do not think we would have made it to Cape Town. We needed that experience.
“We have had a whole load of damage to people and the boat and to come through in fourth is great. You have to think about where we have come from and the (limited) time we had to put it together and where that has cost us in terms of weight in the bulb that is half a tonne lighter than Ericsson 4’s. You can’t expect to jump in and take on these guys who have been building for so long.”
While the first leg and and the boisterous conditions n the second phase was at times a baptism of fire for skipper Walker, for watch leader Neil McDonald, driving a Volvo boat downwind in lively conditions was more familiar.
“We can push harder for sure, but we need to know more about the boat and each other,” he said. “We didn’t go full throttle, but I doubt anyone did because you would break the boat. But we can get a lot more out of our programme.”
A familiar mantra among the teams that have finished so far.
“We know we have a lot more to go,” said Puma skipper Ken Read.
All of which must be of concern to current race leaders and favourites Ericsson 4. Torben Grael’s team may have taught the rest a lesson or two about driving a VO70 hard enough to break a world record, something that he and his crew received universal admiration for from the rest of the fleet, but the ‘cruising division’ as Read refers to in jest, is not that far behind and learning quickly.