VOR fleet struggle in headwinds but more light winds on horizon could compress fleet into Rio 9/3/06

The wind picked up to 22 knots overnight which has resulted in lumpy seas for the VOR teams struggling to reach Rio de Janeiro and the finish of leg four of the race.

Chatting from ABN AMRO One currently leading the fleet by 74 miles, Mike Sanderson said: “There’s nothing quite like bashing upwind into a lumpy sea when it is really hot and you have to have the boat all shut up.”

Volvo Ocean Race meteorologist, Chris Bedford added: “The Volvo Open 70 was not made to go fast upwind, and that is exactly what the crews are having to do today.”

Bedford says there is still every indication that the breeze will shut down in the closing miles to Rio. If this does occur, the fleet will quickly compress, giving a welcome opportunity for the following boats to catch the leaders and giving Sanderson something to worry about. “It’s not clear if there will be an obvious lane through these light winds at the finish,” says Bedford, adding, “It could all come down to little bit of luck as random puffs and shifts will decide who goes forward and who is left behind.”

The order remains unchanged today, but the whole fleet has made gains on Sanderson and ABN AMRO One. Sanderson is watching the opposition carefully: “We know we have an 80 mile [now reduced to 74 miles] gap back to the Pirates [Pirates of the Caribbean/Paul Cayard] and if the conditions were to be plain sailing, that would be a pretty comfortable lead, but as we know only too well after losing a 30-mile lead with 90 miles to go to the finish, just as in the last leg into Wellington, this one is far from over.”

Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) is breathing down the neck of ABN AMRO Two, only four miles behind and just over the horizon. They will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to be on the podium at the finish of the leg in their home port of Rio. ABN AMRO Two is responding, attacking each manoeuvre with the full aggression of an inshore move. The stack of spare sails is flying quickly from one side of the boat to the other in the hope that they might gain an extra few miles. Ericsson Racing Team (Neal McDonald) is just 39 nautical miles behind Brasil 1, but sailing at almost the same speed.

Progress on movistar (Bouwe Bekking) has been painfully slow as they sail north in search of warmer weather as the wind is coming from the direction the team wants to go. The surprising thing seems to be the boat’s performance with the keel locked in the middle. Somebody onboard movistar was heard to comment yesterday that this fixed keel concept might actually catch on someday.

The highlight of the remaining part of this leg for the Spanish team will be the day that Pepe Ribes allows them to break into the leg of cured ham kindly given to the team by a Spanish icebreaker while they were in Ushuaia. “I am told,” writes Mikey Joubert, “this is a very special gift to have received. We are also told by Pepe that there is a special ceremony required when opening and cutting it for the first time. He is keeping us all in mouth-watering suspense when, every morning, he announces that ‘tomorrow will be the day’. If he does not hurry up, he will wake up to find a large piece missing and some very content people on deck.”